Monday , October 25 2021

Israel's Folau fight for religious freedom leaves ugly mess | Bret Harris | Sport


TThe Israel Folau dispute is about to become a test for religious freedom in Australia, with ramifications that potentially go beyond the limits of rugby. Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle announced that Folau's $ 4 million contract was rescinded after an independent panel found that he had committed a high-level code-of-conduct breach of religious, anti-gay and social commentary .

Folau has three days to appeal the ruling, but there was strong speculation that he would go through an appeal and bring the matter directly to the Supreme Court. He confirmed that he was "exploring his options," but there is little point in appealing Folau. Even if a new panel of three were appointed to hear an appeal, it is highly unlikely Folau would escape without any sanction.

And since Folau believes he did nothing wrong, it would be difficult to see him accepting a suspension or a fine. For Folau, it seems that the issue is not just to save a multimillion dollar contract but a crusade for the right to express their religious beliefs without discrimination. Folau believes that he has the "duty to share the word of God".

Folau, 30, firmly rejected the opening to end the dispute, which reignited April 10, when he reported that hell expected homosexuals and a host of other sinners if they did not repent.

Folau could have saved his career by overthrowing his offensive posts, but he did not; he allegedly declined an offer of $ 1 million to solve the problem before the audience code, but immediately rejected it. He dismissed mediation as a possible solution.

All this leads to the conclusion that the matter has always been referred to a court where it will almost certainly become a test case – a legal action whose purpose is to set a precedent. Certainly there has been nothing like the dispute of Folau in the history of the Australian sport, perhaps even the labor relations in general, where contractual law is placed against the freedom of religion.

Unlike the USA, Australia does not have a constitutional or statutory declaration of rights that protects religious freedom. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution prevents the federal parliament from making laws that prohibit the free exercise of any religion, but does not prevent states from making such laws. But the Federal Fair Work Act prohibits discrimination based on religious belief or activity in employment contexts, as well as laws in all states except NSW and South Australia.

RA stated that Folau was entitled to his religious beliefs, but had to express them more "respectfully". If ever the laws demanded clarification, they are those related to religious freedom in Australia.

While Folau fights for the right to religious freedom, how about the state of the game that he is leaving behind?

RA is not full of funds. There is a report that RA has already spent more than $ 350,000 in an attempt to dismiss Folau. Could it afford a long and expensive legal battle that victory is not guaranteed? Moving from a court code to a court would be a new ball game.

The controversial comments from Folau's social networks divided the community and the game. Some former Folau colleagues in the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs have publicly criticized his comments, but many are Pacific islanders who share their religious beliefs and may feel resentment over the way they were treated.

The Waratahs season was hampered by the absence of the Folau. They have won only one of four games since he was suspended and will have difficulty reaching the playoffs. And of course, rugby is now without the services of one of its best players in a year of the World Cup.

There will be much reflection on how rugby has come to this point. Is there anything the RA could have done to prevent this? Were there any mistakes along the way when dealing with the problem? When Folau posted his first anti-gay comment a year ago, RA simply could have stated that Folau's views were his own and did not reflect those of the organization and left him that way.

Did Rugby Australia pursue Folau on the subject to maintain its inclusion policy or was there commercial pressure from the sponsors? Or a combination of both? Or would it always end in court, no matter what RA did or did not do?

If Folau takes legal action and is successful, it will be a victory for religious freedom across Australia, particularly in the workplace, and if he fails, he will become the first religious religious martyr in Australia.

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