Fo­lau en­ti­tled to speak his mind

Rugby Aus­tralia has up­held the prin­ci­ple of free speech

The Australian - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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