The Israel Folau saga has reached an ending of sorts — but, unfortunately, with ominous implications for religious freedom.
Rugby Australia announced that Folau — its star player who is coming out of contract — would face no sanctions (this time at least) over his theologically-based comments on social media about homosexuality and hell.
However, to appease sponsors lead as Qantas, RA CEO Raleane Castles sent a memo to all Australian Super Rugby players warning of their contractual obligations under RA’s Inclusion Policy and to use social media in a respectful manner.
The implication is that any further expression of his religious views by Folau, or any other player, that contradicts the corporate inclusiveness mantras of RA and its sponsors will be treated as grounds for banishment from the code.
This is the same place that the National Rugby League seems to have landed on this issue — given CEO Todd Greenberg’s statement that Folau’s public statements about his religious beliefs would not be acceptable in rugby league.
The failure by both codes to respect the rights of players to express genuinely held religious beliefs is alarming since religious freedom is meaningless without the right to affirm one’s religion in the public square.
As my colleague Peter Kurti has rightly argued, if ‘”corporate guardians of public morality” get their way, the real values of tolerance — tolerance of true diversity of opinion that is the bedrock of traditional freedoms of thought, speech, conscience and religion — looks set to disappear in Australia.
It is ironic, therefore, that Folau has offered the best defence of these values — and in the process disproved the ‘kindest’ criticism levelled at him, which was that his views should be ignored as those of someone “employed in a profession that values brawn over brains.”
Folau’s response to the storm over his comments is a thoughtful, measured, and eloquent meditation on freedom of religion and its intersection with contemporary politics — which any speech or article composed by the average MP would struggle to match for depth of meaning and insights into balancing the competing rights of different groups in society.
Falou’s response is worth reading because it traverses the key questions we face in these culturally polarised times.
Do we want to live in a country where our shared commitment to fundamental freedoms for all allows us to find ways to live together harmoniously despite our differences?
Or do we want to live in a country where sporting bodies and corporations mandate ideological conformity and force us all to think, speak, and act the same in the name of ‘diversity’?