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Israel Folau: excommunicated for his beliefs

The Wallabies player has been persecuted for his Christian faith.

Guy Birchall

Topics Free Speech Sport World

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Israel Folau is still being persecuted by the world of rugby for blaspheming against gay people. Folau is a staunch Christian. Last May, the Aussie egg chaser was excommunicated by Rugby Australia after posting online that homosexuals (along with drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters) faced hell if they didn’t repent their sinful ways. Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia for a ‘high-level breach’ of the player’s code of conduct. The Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales also ruled that Folau had ‘vilified’ gay people.

Folau’s beliefs, daft as they may be, in no way impacted on his ability to play rugby. The man is entitled to his faith and should not be hounded out of his job (a job which ironically involves grabbing big men in little shorts) for vocalising it. He is the fourth highest try scorer in Wallabies’ history, but he was cut from the team in his prime because he said something offensive.

The punishment has done nothing to alter his beliefs. In November, he was filmed in church blaming Australia’s bushfires on buggery and abortion.

Now he has joined French Rugby League side Catalans Dragons. He played his first game on Saturday. Folau’s move provided European rugby with a chance to prove how wonderfully woke it is. Just 19 minutes after his signing was confirmed, Wigan Warriors declared that its upcoming clash against the Dragons on 22 March would be celebrated as a ‘Pride Day’. Players will wear rainbow socks and laces and LGBTQ+ groups will be invited to attend. One assumes that the invitation is also extended to drunks, fornicators, atheists and others who Folau said would go to hell, but Wigan Warriors didn’t feel the need to expressly mention it.

Obviously, Wigan Warriors have every right to do this, but it isn’t exactly a bold statement or some great leap forward for equality. Taking part in Pride events is now a basic PR exercise for virtually every organisation. Police forces, banks and even arms manufacturers can’t drape themselves in the rainbow flag fast enough. Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A can’t even open in the UK without protesters shutting them down because the founder is a Christian opposed to gay marriage.

What this boils down to is people being punished for wrong think rather than wrong action. If Folau were threatening gay people or refusing to allow them to play rugby alongside him, that would be cause for serious censure. Just as if Chick-fil-A were refusing to employ or serve LGBT people, that would be cause for action. But neither is doing this as far as we are aware.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are cornerstones of any decent society. That means that views that go against the prevailing orthodoxy of the age have just as much right to be expressed as mainstream views. Just as it was wrong to punish and ostracise those who spoke out in favour of gay rights and against religious doctrine in the past, so it is wrong to silence those who still hold those religious views. It is no better to run Folau out of a job for believing homosexuality is a sin than it would be to boot Phillip Schofield off the This Morning sofa for coming out as gay. For his unsolicited sermons, Folau has been branded a fundamentalist, sacked and forced to the other side of the planet to get another job.

After the initial controversy first blew up last year, Folau penned a rather thoughtful response, saying that although he believed the Bible to be the true word of God, ‘every individual in this world is different… I don’t expect everyone to believe what I believe’. He is clearly less of a fundamentalist than those who would have him expelled from public life.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in London.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Sport World

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