First some background from the ABC:
“Hopefully Rugby Australia will accept that my termination was unlawful and we can reach an agreement about how they can fix that mistake,” Folau said in the video.
“First and foremost I am hoping for an apology from Rugby Australia and an acknowledgement that even if they disagree with my views, I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or exclusion.”
Shortly after he made the comments, RA issued a statement saying: “Any suggestion that Rugby Australia offered Israel Folau money to remove a post made on April 10, 2019, is completely untrue.”
The spat will today be heard in the Fair Work Commission — the first step in what appears likely to end in a protracted legal battle in the Federal Court.
Folau brought the action, and wants RA to acknowledge his contract was terminated because of his religious beliefs.
His sacking and the subsequent slanging match has ignited a debate about free speech.
A settlement appears unlikely and the former full-back has already crowdfunded $2 million to pay his legal fees.
RA chief Raelene Castle emailed fans to defend the organisation’s conduct.
“I want to make clear that Rugby Australia has acted with complete professionalism and integrity at all times through the process by which Israel was found, by an independent three-member tribunal panel, to have made multiple, serious breaches of the Professional Players Code of Conduct,” she wrote.
“The panel found the breaches constituted a high level and directed Rugby Australia to terminate Israel’s contract.”
What is this “Professional Players Code of Conduct”? You can get a copy here. The section(s) at the root of the problem seem to be (the language is so vague/broad that it could also involve other sections):
Code of Conduct – Players (p.6)
1.3 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.
1.7 Use Social Media appropriately. By all means share your positive experiences of Rugby but do not use Social Media as a means to breach any of the expectations and requirements of you as a player contained in this Code or in any Union, club or competition rules and regulations.
These sections are sloppy and incompetent. Although there is a reference to fair treatment of “religious background”, this does not appear to be interpreted by RA as the right to freedom of religion. RA does not acknowledge/accommodate the greater context of rights such as freedom of religion (which includes the expression of religious belief in public) and freedom of speech. No-one at RA seems to comprehend these rights as critical to a relatively free society. In its obliviousness of these fundamental rights, it seems that RA found Folau’s internet posting of a Biblical reference that included homosexuality, and possibly other posts of a similar content, as being unfair treatment of gender or gender identity and sexual orientation, and using social media to do so. In other words, RA interpreted Folau’s posting(s) as “wrongdoing” and, therefore, a violation of the Professional Players Code of Conduct. RA is actually in breach of Folau’s right to freedom of religion, either ignorantly/intentionally.
Worse still is that a 3-member panel that included an experienced lawyer, concluding that high-level violations were committed by Folau, also had no concept of the rights to religious freedom and freedom of speech. As such, any questioning of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. that can be construed as detrimental/unfavourable, whether founded/unfounded, would constitute a violation of the player code. In Folau’s case, he was eventually sacked for these “violation(s)”.
This circumstance at RA, and which may be the case for other codes, is appalling. The wording of the sections in question and the implications in the greater context of rights have not been thought through at all. The result is that RA, in violating the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, has acted as a bully, the very thing that it claims it abhors.
The rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech are foundational. The major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) all have issues with homosexuality. These religions have existed for at least 1500 years. In assigning rights to gender/gender identity/sexual orientation it would be understood that on some issues there would be a clash between these newly assigned rights and the right of freedom of religion. This produces a stalemate of rights. In these instances, each side would simply have to agree to disagree. In the instance of someone having no religious affiliation, they may still have questions regarding claims of the LGBTQI lobby, e.g., SSM. Their questioning would be covered by the right of freedom of speech.
Due to sloppy wording and a failure to comprehend foundational rights, RA would find anyone questioning LGBTQI as violating the Player Code of Conduct.
Here is where it goes “pear-shaped”. According to RA CEO, Castle, and she’s now on the public record for making this claim, Folau’s termination had nothing to do with his religious beliefs or their expression in public:
“I thought I could offer some clarification on where Rugby Australia stands,” Castle’s statement read.
“I want to make clear that Rugby Australia has acted with complete professionalism and integrity at all times through the process by which Israel was found, by an independent three-member tribunal panel, to have made multiple, serious breaches of the Professional Players Code of Conduct.
“The panel found the breaches constituted a high level and directed Rugby Australia to terminate Israel’s contract.
“This is an employment matter and does not concern his religious beliefs or his ability to express them freely. If some of you follow Israel’s social accounts, you will have noticed he has posted religious material freely and openly over the last few years.
“The media attention it has garnered is obviously distracting as it means that we aren’t talking about, and celebrating, all the great things going on in our game.”
Castle is claiming that his high-level violations of the Player Code of Conduct have to do with something other than his religious beliefs/social media postings. But what is this “something else”?
Folau surely must have been informed why he was being sacked, what violations he was being charged with. Surely there’s a hard copy of these, including the panel deliberations/conclusions. Folau seems convinced that it had to do with a religious post that included a reference to homosexuals. The vulgar, obscene pile on that has occurred over the last few months involving social commentators and large corporations (e.g., ANZ) that has attempted to character-assassinate Folau and get his wife, Maria, sacked, too, seemed to be driven by the belief that the violation(s) concerned Biblical references to homosexuals. Qantas (major sponsor of RA) CEO, Joyce, seemed to be convinced that the violation had to do with specific religious post that included a reference to homosexuals. Joyce even refers to Folau’s social media post as a wrongdoing (producing “controversy”) on a par with the recent wrongdoing of ball-tampering in the cricket.
All of these believe that it has to do with this social media posting. Yet Castle is saying, no, it doesn’t have to do with that. It has to do with something else altogether. Someone is lying here. Or maybe Castle still doesn’t understand the concepts of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Who to believe? Hopefully this will all come out in the wash in Federal Court.