Comment from Peter Saxon
By now, surely someone will have written an episode of the Good Fight based on the Israel Folau saga.
It would make an excellent courtroom drama on shows like Boston Legal or Suits with the central character changed to, say, an American footballer, invoking his right to quote Sharia Law as it applies to infidels. The TV verdict would, no doubt, be a massive win for social justice. But whatever the outcome, the fact is, it will be fiction.
On television, you’re more likely to see a reflection of the court of public opinion than any semblance of actual proceedings in civil court.
Only on television can a legal team be briefed on some complex social justice issue in the morning and be in court, pleading their case, that same afternoon. In real life, the matter of Israel Folau v. Rugby Australia won’t be heard till February next year and a verdict may take months to deliver. Then there’s the possibility of appeals that could take many months more.
Whatever the outcome, it won’t be the result of florid orators making impassioned speeches about human rights and religious freedoms in the cause of justice. In the real world we don’t have a justice system. We have a legal system. Justice will be lucky to get a look-in. And for good reason: Folau and RA are both expecting justice to prevail in their favour. Obviously, they can’t both have it. Instead, they could both end up disappointed. Unlike a criminal trial where the accused is either found guilty or innocent, a civil trial is more likely to end in a draw or a pyrrhic victory for one side or the other.
While we need to wait till February 2020 for the legal system to kick in, the court of public opinion has been in session for several months. Chief counsel for the Plaintiff, Folau, is 2GB’s Alan Jones who, coincidently, has much in common with Folau’s plight with his employer, RA who feared an exodus of major sponsors if they didn’t pull their best player into line following comments he made about gay people. Just the other day, in an attempt to pull Jones into line (good luck with that) following ME Bank’s cancelation of their advertising schedule, Jones was threatened with the sack by Macquarie Media Chairman Russell Tate if he repeats the kind of comments he made last week regarding NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
As the ACMA’s most prolific subject of complaint, Jones should be well versed in the difference between “The Law” as it is written in the Broadcast Act and “The Codes” which pertain to more loosely defined matters of perceived social standards such as decency and factual reporting. Jones also knows, or should know, better than most how and where The Laws and The Codes intersect as they surely will when the real court case begins.
Jones holds that Rugby Australia (RA) has no right to sack his client for his religious beliefs. And that those beliefs trump any offence he might cause minority groups like LGBTQI people, for example. Backing Jones, among others, is the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) who have put their money where their collective mouth is and have collected over two million dollars towards Folau’s legal fees.
In interviews with Folau, on 2GB and on Sky, Jones has put his client in the witness box and presented his case with emphasis on the following points with my counterpoints indented on each.
His client is deeply religious and makes his remarks based on biblical texts from a position of love for his fellow man. He means no harm.
- I have no doubt that Folau is sincere in his beliefs. But he needs to understand that while other people’s beliefs may be at odds with his own, they are just as sincerely held and deserve to be respected. And if we’re all going to get along in this diverse world, it’s better to keep some of our more divisive beliefs to ourselves than cause offence to others – especially if causing such offence is at odds with our employer’s stated Codes of Conduct.
Footballers in other codes get away with a range of crimes and misdemeanours such as drugs, domestic violence and sexual assault. Yet, here’s Jones’ client rubbed out of the game simply for quoting from the bible.
- There’s no moral equivalency between demeaning minority groups (The Code) and criminal offences (The Law) which are dealt with by police and criminal courts. However, if a player has been dealt with under the law and has paid the prescribed penalty, why shouldn’t he be able to get on with his life as before?
Several team members are vehemently opposed to Folau’s remarks and have even blamed him for the team’s poor performances. On the other hand, most of the Islander players who are also religious Christians, support Folau.
- Whatever the rights and wrongs, this simply proves that what Folau has said is divisive. Every professional coach that I’ve read or spoken to (with the exception of Alan Jones) has stated that such division, in in any team sport, is pure poison.
To the question from Jones, “Is there anything in your contract that says that outside your workplace you couldn’t speak about your faith on social media?”Folau provides an emphatic, “No. Absolutely not.”
- I haven’t seen Folau’s contract but I’m sure that there’s no clause that specifically states that he should refrain from vilifying others in general or gay people in particular. What is more than likely, and as Folau’s advocate Jones understandably chooses to omit in his line of questioning, is that Folau, like everyone else involved in Rugby is required to abide by the game’s Code of Conduct. RA’s Code of Conduct, which runs to well over 100 pages, can be found on the RA website at https://australia.rugby/about/codes-and-policies/all-codes-and-policies
- According to the site, everyone from juniors to professionals who play the game, from referees and ball boys to the executives, receptionists and cleaners at RA HQ are bound by those codes to uphold the interests of the game as set out in those codes and policies.
- There are quite a number of clauses that deal with “inclusion.” Here’s just a taste:
The Policy’s Pillars
The pillars of this Policy are fundamental to achieving Rugby AU’s overriding
objective in relation to the:
eradication of homophobic actions, discrimination, abuse, bullying, or
harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation from
development of an environment within Rugby which encourages gay, lesbian
and bisexual participation.
- Despite Folau’s insistence that his intention when telling gays that ‘hell awaits unless they repent’ was an act of love, many gay people don’t see it that way. Most I’ve spoken to object to the inference that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice.” Medical evidence proves otherwise. They didn’t decide to be gay any more than straight people like Folau decided to be straight. They were just born that way. Therefore, they should not be required to repent for a condition over which they have no more control than the colour of their skin – even if the bible says so.
Jones then asks, “And you had a meeting, didn’t you, with Rugby officialdom a couple of years ago? Did they lay the law down to you and tell you that you can’t talk about your faith outside the workplace?”
Folau answers truthfully, “After the first initial incident that happened last year, I had a meeting with Raelene (Castle – RA boss) and we spoke of the potential effect it could have within the game. She said I was still able to share my religious beliefs but just do it in a more respectful way.”
- Obviously, more was said at that meeting than Folau has described in a few words, therefore much of the nuance is likely to be missing. However, unless there’s been a total misunderstanding of what was meant by the word “respectful” it’s clear that by Folau’s own admission there was a verbal agreement between he and Castle that he would refrain from using divisive language and stick to quoting the more inclusive passages from the bible. Folau broke that agreement.
From the questions put to Folau by Jones, the player overwhelmingly comes across as a man of conviction. “My faith is what defines me as a person. That’s who I am.”he tells Jones, “The goal for me is to stand up for the word of God. It means more to me than anything.”
If that is so, and I don’t doubt Folau’s sincerity, he could do worse than turn to the scripture according to Mathew 6:24 of the King James Bible which states: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott lost his seat of Warringah in part because he was a vocal opponent of same sex marriage. Sincere as he may have been, he chose to pursue his personal beliefs over the majority of those he was elected to represent which resulted in a crushing defeat in the last election.
By comparison, when asked to comment on the RA matter by 7News, current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison who, like Folau, is a member of the Pentecostal Church (albeit a very different branch) had this to say, “I’m a Prime Minister and it’s not my job to be making these sorts of proclamations. I’m elected to run a country not to run a church or provide a running commentary on people’s theological positions.”
Absolutely correct, Prime Minister.
Izzy should take a leaf out of the PM’s book. The subtext is that things may be different if he was Scott Morrison, Private Citizen but as PM, his role is to bring the nation together not divide it. Izzy, RA pays you play rugby and to be an ambassador for their game not yours.
Out of the last 30 columns Alan Jones has written for The Australian, all but a few are directed at RA, its administration and its CEO, Raelene Castle, in particular. In Jones inimitable style, he has gone out of his way to paint Rugby Australia as the Devil incarnate.
Perhaps he’s right. In which case Israel Folau should understand that he can’t spread the word of God while taking the Devil’s coin.