Rugby Australia have sacked their best player because of the religious views he expressed on Instagram. Since then Israel Folau has begun legal proceedings for unlawful dismissal. As his views were based on the Bible, the Court case could involve an assessment of Christianity and the Bible. It’s possible that parts of the Bible could be deemed to be “hate speech” or homophobic because they aren’t “inclusive”.
Hate speech is language that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or physical or mental disability.
But who decides what is “hate speech” and what is not? This is a very subjective topic as the answer could depend on the worldview of the person making the decision. For example, my views which are influenced by what the Bible says, will be different from those of an LGBT advocate.
We live in a day where biblical truth is considered hate speech. Israel Folau says, “The word of God hurts, and that’s a good thing because it’s meant to turn us away from our sin and turn us to God” and “We should never compromise God’s word in order to make people feel comfortable!!!”
The legal debate
Rugby Australia claims the sacking was for a breach of their Code of Conduct (Appendix A) and Inclusion Policy (Appendix B), which are part of a player’s employment contract. But Folau claims his sacking was unlawful because section 772 of the Fair Work Act prohibits terminating a worker on the basis of religion. Apparently there is no other law to protect religious freedom in Australia. Section 772 of the Act says that an employer must not terminate an employee’s employment for any one of a list of unlawful reasons, including “religion”. If the parties don’t agree to arbitration by the Fair Work Commission, the employee can make an application to the Federal Court to deal with the matter. In this case they may need to rule on the limitations of an employer’s power to prevent discriminatory expression.
The common understanding of the Fair Work Act is that workers cannot be sacked for expressing their religious views. But Rugby Australia must think that their Code of conduct can over-ride the Act. This is a case where an employer code of conduct appears to contradict an act of parliament. One possible outcome could be a ruling that codes of conduct must not contradict an act of parliament. But this is unlikely because it goes against the prevailing secular sympathy for the LGBT cause!
There is also the aspect of an employer controlling people’s private life. An employer is entitled to regulate out of hours conduct of an employee when it has a relevant connection to the employment. But what if this action contradicts the Fair Work Act? The case has already been referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman by a Liberal senator seeking a ruling on whether an employer can sack an employee for expressing their religious beliefs on social media outside the workplace.
Does the post target homosexuals?
The answer to this question is “Yes and no”. No, because it targets everyone (we are all “idolators”)! And yes because “homosexuals” are included in a list along with “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolators”. As the post isn’t only addressed to homosexuals, it doesn’t specifically target homosexuals. So the post isn’t homophobic.
Why have there been no protests about the other categories of people mentioned in the post besides homosexuals? If it is unacceptable for homosexuals, then it should also be unacceptable for drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolators!
Does the post harm homosexuals?
The answer to this will depend on your worldview. I think it doesn’t harm homosexuals (or others) because it tells the truth according to the Bible. It warns about a destiny that can be avoided. It offers help, not harm. A warning isn’t harmful or hateful. So the post isn’t homophobic. But the response by Rugby Australia to the post isn’t in keeping with Folau’s intention.
However, an LGBT advocate, who is ignorant of the Bible or who disregards what it says, would probably think that it was criticizing homosexuals. But this view fails to take the context into account. The post doesn’t target homosexuals directly. Instead it targets everyone. In that case, everyone should be upset, not just homosexuals!
Test case for free speech
Some see the sacking as a threat to free speech and freedom of religion. Are we becoming more restrictive on religious views?
Next weekend the “Religious freedoms at the crossroads conference – The rise of anti-Christian sentiment in the west” is being held at Perth in Australia. As a sign of the times, Facebook has censored this legal conference because it violates their “community standards”! So Facebook refuses to allow anyone to post information about this conference. This shows that our freedom of speech and religious freedom is already under threat. Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.
China blocks more than 3,000 foreign websites, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And there is increased censorship of religious discussions on WeChat. In this way freedom of speech and freedom of religion is curtailed in China.
Now the Christian view is being censored. It’s a world where evil is called good and good is called evil. And Christians are like Daniel in Babylon because community standards are against those in the Bible.
Will this trend lead to the Bible being classified as discriminatory hate speech that’s homophobic and not inclusive? Will it be banned from usage in public and be restricted to private use? How ironic! The law of our land, which was based on laws of the Bible, could be used to condemn the Bible! And will Christians be persecuted for their faith like in some Muslim countries?
A similar matter arose in the UK in 2012 when an employee was demoted and lost 40% of his wages after he questioned on his Facebook page about whether churches should be required to perform same-sex weddings. In this instance, the High Court held that the workplace code of conduct could not restrict the employee’s free speech (Smith v Trafford Housing Trust  EWHC 3221).
As you can see, this is a complex situation! And there can be conflicting views. But we can always pray for a good outcome that is fair to all concerned (if that’s possible!).
Pray for those in authority
Paul told Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1Tim. 2:1-6NIV). So we need to pray for those in authority “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. If Folau loses his court case it will be difficult for Christians to live peaceful and quiet lives because their Christian views will no longer be acceptable by society. Instead they will be censored.
Rugby Australia sacked their best player because he quoted and paraphrased the Bible. He lost he freedom of religious expression. This could lead to further discrimination against Christians and the censorship of Christian views.
I wonder if Rugby Australia would sack a Muslim player for quoting or paraphrasing the Koran on Facebook or Instagram? They would probably celebrate their multiculturalism instead.
Appendix A: Extract from Rugby Australia, Code of conduct
“Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.” (1.3)
Appendix B: Extract from Rugby Australia, Inclusion policy (August 2014)
Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy, which was adopted in 2014 and states, “Rugby has and must continue to be a sport where players, officials, volunteers, supporters and administrators have the right and freedom to participate regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion and without fear of exclusion. There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this.” (1.6)
“The overriding objective of this Policy is to make our position on inclusion clear. By doing so, we are signalling our commitment, as the governing body of Rugby Union in Australia, to make a stand to eradicate discrimination in all forms, including harassment and bullying toward gay, lesbian and bisexual people, individually and collectively with other sports codes.” (1.7)
“While this Policy has a focus on homophobia and makes specific reference to gay, lesbian and bisexual people, the overarching principles and intention of the policy is to make a positive statement on the importance of inclusion for all, and the importance of eliminating all forms of discrimination in our game.” (1.8)
Written, June 2019