By Dorothy Thompson.
This is the very question that the administration of Rugby Australia must grapple with when they confront Israel Folau, a devout Christian. They are to meet today in what is predicted to be a heated confrontation over his views, based on his religious beliefs that have purportedly enraged the gay community.
Folau wrote on social media last week that gays would go to hell unless they repented their sins. He tweeted again on Sunday, using a Bible quote from Matthew 5 to suggest he was being persecuted for his beliefs.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle and Waratahs chief Andrew Hore are expected to try to dissuade Folau from further social media comment that could be considered homophobic or bigoted. It is however understood Folau believes he is being discriminated against for his beliefs.
The snivel libertarians at Qantas have said it was “very disappointed’’ in Folau and may have to re-evaluate their sponsorship position after the meeting that RA is to have with him (Folau). Additionally Land Rover, which has an $850,000 sponsorship deal with Rugby Australia, confirmed its marketing director Kevin Nicholls had told the game’s administrators at the weekend that Folau’s views “did not match our brand values”.
Not surprisingly, many Religious leaders have take to the media supporting Folau’s right to his personal beliefs and the basic human right of the “freedom of speech”.
Dr. Glenn Davies, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, said the way Folau was treated would be a test of Australian Rugby’s inclusion policy. “Israel Folau should be free to hold and express traditional, biblical views on marriage and sexuality without being penalised, just as other players have spoken out with their differing views”.
Former human rights commissioner and now federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson suggested companies and individuals lashing out at Folau “should take a chill pill”. “Respecting diversity includes diversity of opinion, including on questions of morality”.
Dr Davies backed Folau’s right to express his views, saying Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy made clear the game was “for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender”. The archbishop, who advocated a “No” vote in the same-sex marriage survey, said it would be “hypocritical for administrators to censure a player for expressing views which sprung from his own faith and conscience”.
Peter Kurti, an Anglican minister and head of the religious and civil society program for the Centre for Independent Studies, said the pressure on Folau was as much about freedom of religion as freedom of speech.
Mr Kurti, previously vicar of St James Church in Sydney, said: “he did not agree with Folau’s views, but was concerned corporate pressure might be used to exert control on an organisation fearing losing sponsorship funds”.
Folau was not a theologian but a young man expressing his views that did not amount to “hate speech”, he said. “The comments were “not particularly harmful”.
“At what point does corporate sponsorship become social engineering?” Mr Kurti said: “Tolerance is about not putting up with things you like — it’s about putting up with what you don’t like.”
Folau’s place as a role model should be judged more on how he behaved on the playing field.
Former Labour leader Mark Latham posted on twitter.
Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne has confirmed the organisation could not afford to lose major sponsors. However the question must be asked. At what point does corporate sponsorship become social engineering? Additionally what right have sponsors when it comes to gagging free speech to suite their own social and political agenda?