Folau entitled to speak his mind
Rugby Australia has upheld the principle of free speech
Even with sponsorship possibly on the line, Rugby Australia made the correct decision in not sanctioning Wallabies and Waratahs fullback Israel Folau, 29, for his contentious social media post about homosexuality. As Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle said yesterday, it was clear from Folau’s post on the PlayersVoice website on Monday night that he did not intend to upset people or to hurt the game. In the article, Israel explains his religious beliefs and why his faith is important to him. He also provides context behind his provocative social media comment a fortnight earlier in which he claimed homosexuals are headed for “hell” unless they repent their “sins” and turn to God.
Folau, who was brought up a Mormon, has the courage of his convictions. Had his situation become untenable, he was prepared to walk away from his football career “because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be”. In the article he denied he was homophobic and pointed out that he had appeared on the cover of the Star Observer magazine “to show my support for the Bingham Cup, which is an international gay rugby competition for both men and women”.
The fact Australians voted strongly in favour of same-sex marriage in last year’s postal plebiscite does not, in our pluralistic society, preclude churches or individuals from stating and defending their religious beliefs. That is what Folau did in his article, conceding he had “sinned many times” and had asked forgiveness. As he said, “I understand a lot of people won’t agree with some of the things I’m about to write. That’s absolutely fine. In life, you are allowed to agree to disagree.” Preferably with tolerance and understanding.
Had Rugby Australia sanctioned Folau it would have set a bad precedent for religious censorship, even persecution. That said, Folau could have expressed his view in less colourful terms. Ms Castle, sensibly, says Rugby Australia will use the experience to remind all employees of their obligations to use social media in a respectful way.