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The implications of Rugby’s persecution of Israel Folau

Israel Folau
Israel Folau "has not sought to persecute; all he has done is issue a heartfelt, albeit misdirected, warning"


TUMBY BAY - The appalling decision by the politically correct pedants at Rugby Australia to terminate Israel Folau’s contract for the apparently heinous offence of posting a comment on his religious beliefs has set a very dangerous precedent.

I’m not particularly inclined to get excited about grown men chasing a leather ball around a paddock nor am I inclined to believe in supreme beings but I am inclined to believe that people like Israel Folau have a perfect right to say what they believe without fear of persecution.

What he said is what he believes. He was born in New South Wales of Tongan parents. As a Pacific Islander his profound religious beliefs come as no surprise.

That he felt the need to warn people who are different to him of the imputed biblical consequences of those differences, irrelevant as that may be, is also not particularly unusual.

As readers of PNG Attitude know, people in the Pacific take their religious beliefs seriously.

One might also go so far as to observe that Christianity in the Pacific has its own idiosyncrasies as a result of its cultural origins.

One shouldn’t generalise but for a people versed in traditional spiritualism like Melanesian mana that gives rise to the belief that the world is inhabited or animated by an impersonal force which may manifest itself both in living things and non-living objects Christianity, with all its improbabilities is a perfect fit.

This contrasts quite markedly with the situation in the west following the so-called Age of Enlightenment which emphasised reason and individualism rather than tradition and saw the growth of secularism.

Despite what the missionaries intended, if you mix mana with Christianity you are going to get quite a different result to mixing Christianity with enlightenment.

I think this goes some way towards explaining the power of Israel Folau’s beliefs and his concerns for those who are different to him.

Unlike Rugby Australia he has not sought to persecute those people. All he has done is issue a heartfelt, albeit misdirected, warning to those people.

He has not, as Rugby Australia has done, set a dangerous precedent about religious freedom or the expression of free speech.

This precedent will reverberate within all sporting codes but it will also go beyond those codes into the general populace.

Christian people of all persuasions already feel under siege from secularism but will now feel further pressures.

Christians with Melanesian or Pacific Island origins will now think twice about publicly discussing their beliefs.

Rugby is a national sport in many Pacific Island nations. Such reverberations will no doubt occur in those countries, including Papua New Guinea.

Even as an atheist this concerns me greatly.

Hopefully Israel Folau’s appeal against this ridiculous decision will succeed and common sense will prevail.


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Mathias Kin

Famous, had become one of three best all time best Australian rugby backs of all time.

You wouldn't forget he was a superstar of the other rugby code before he switched to Rules and then to rugby.

Rugby league should open its arms wide to receive him back. Hopefully the rubbish surrounding his outbursts on social media won't stop him. We would all love him back.

Arthur Williams

Don’t forget sodomy is still illegal in PNG as it is in at least 72 other nations though none in Europe. But Russia and Lithuania have laws against proselytising homosexuality.

A comment in the UK’s Daily Mail is perhaps most pertinent: ‘If you removed the word homosexuals from his list no one would have batted an eyelid.’

We are told, 'All you need is love' but love is not synonymous with lust!

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm game Richard but you have to remember that I'm a vegetarian and couldn't possibly touch a leather ball.

Arthur Smedley

Whatever may happen in the courts, it appears that Folau’s rugby career may not be over. It was reported about a week ago that ‘Twiggy’ Forrest could provide Israel Folau with a lifeline if he is sacked by Rugby Australia.

Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby competition, which he started after the Western Force were axed from Super Rugby, is to expand next year and the tournament is seeking star signings.

William Dunlop

Is their by any chance a hidden agenda behind the statements made by Mr Folau. "Puppet on a string under manipulation etc.

I can go back to Ian Paisley and his sidekick Rev Wylie in Ballymoney, Ireland, in the 1950's when as a young man I listened to their outlandish religious outpourings, incitement is perhaps a more apt description.

The British Crown saw fit to make him a peer of the realm, Lord Banside.

Liam Neeson the famous actor comes from the next nearest big town, Ballymena, where Paisley had one of his Free Presbyterian houses of worship.

Now Neeson, who is a good practising Catholic, didn't let that stop him from going along to Paisley's sermons, where he was gaining much acting tutelage from the great man thundering from his pulpit. Em Tasol. Slainte.

Richard Jones

As a sports writer and broadcaster - even at my advanced age - I couldn't agree more, Phil.

The RU ban is just heinous. Folau should be reinstated. Maybe a reasonable amount could be deducted to cover court costs, but this should not be permitted to balloon out.

But there's good news, Phil. Your Tumby Bay boys in the Great Flinders Footy League will be at home on 1 June against Eyre United.

Admittedly they're playing away this coming weekend to Ramblers but on Saturday week you can park the trusty AWD along the fence at your West Terrace Oval and cheer on the local boys. And the girls in the netball too, of course.

Give the trusty vehicle a break from sand-bashing down the beach, Phil. Support the locals!

Support? I reckon Phil should be turning out for the mighty Bay boys - KJ

Harry Topham

Phil - Exactly. When is a statement made in the public domain.

If any writer expresses his or her opinion in the social media platform and restricts reading to members of the closed group, is it then within the public domain or alternatively what if Israel had made his comments only within the earshot of his Christian brethren is that then also within the auspices of the public domain.

This issue is bound to get bogged down in semantics.

In defamation law, two or more people and you're in trouble. A closed social media group would not save you - KJ

Chris Overland

Arthur, you are quite right. Section 116 of the Constitution confers effective freedom of religion upon Australian citizens.

This will not satisfy the religious right within the LNP, who want legislative protection to allow them to, for example, proscribe gay or lesbian kids from attending religion based schools or preclude anyone of another religion from accessing certain services they may provide, e.g. aged care.

This debate is going to get ugly very fast.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Or perhaps if Rugby Australia had simply issued a statement saying that Folau's opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of Rugby Australia Harry?

As it currently stands Rugby Australia has played into the hands of the Christian Right who will now use him as a martyr for their cause.

With a member of that Christian right now prime minister of Australia anything could happen.

Arthur Smedley

Israel Folau is out, but tennis allows a clown like Kyrgios to survive.

Kyrgios threw a chair onto a court in Rome and walked off like a spoiled child. They should get rid of Kyrgios, but kept Folau.

One of them has become a total and utter embarrassment to Australian sport. The other has not – he has just expressed his beliefs, which after all are repeated in many churches around Australia on most Sundays.

And then we have sportsmen allowed to continue playing after being found guilty of drug taking, physical assault and abuse and sexual crimes – hardly in the same category as Folau’s breach.

Arthur Smedley

Chris, You mentioned "Any move to legislate for freedom of religious belief...".
Isn't freedon of religion already guaranteed in the Australian constitution?

Harry Topham

Agree Phil. It’s all about money not moral principles of self criticism, the ARU is more concerned about whether their sponsors might withdraw their financial sponsorship.

I wonder if Israel had put a disclaimer on his post stating along the lines - “the following opinion is mine and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Australian Rugby Union - whether his “employer” would then have the right to hold him to account for his opinions.

Chris Overland

Israel Folau's intemperate and unwise foray into public life through the expression of his extreme religious views has opened a veritable Pandora's Box.

He has, however sincerely held his beliefs may be, ignited a firestorm of criticism and anger from those who he says will go to hell. Many who privately share his views might wish that he had kept them to himself.

Worse still, I think that his case will be red meat to the religious conservatives within the newly re-elected Morrison government, who are going to renew their push to enact legislative protection for the right to hold and express religious beliefs.

Any move to legislate for freedom of religious belief will merely add petrol to the flames of this very divisive and highly emotional debate.

From a purely practical standpoint, drafting such legislation is fraught with difficulty. After all, the same rules to give freedom of religious belief to Christians like Folau, must logically apply to the followers of Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, Scientology, Zoroastrianism and so on.

A legislative licence for Israel Folau to spout his repugnant beliefs also is a licence for those who follow ISIS or any one of the innumerable crackpot religious cults that abound on this planet.

A sensible politician will run screaming from the room rather than get into a debate on a topic where rationality and logic cannot possibly prevail against the irrational power of supernatural belief.

In the modern world, faith trumps truth in more ways than one.

History shows that disputes and wars over religious belief are easily ignited and incredibly difficult to extinguish. The collateral damage in death, destruction and human misery has been immense.

The supposed triumph of enlightenment and tolerance was thought to have put paid to such savagery, but it continues to lurk in the shadows, ever ready to spring to life once more.

ISIS is but the latest example of toxic and appalling religious fanaticism being unleashed, mostly upon the powerless and helpless.

Irrespective of whether you think Israel Folau was within his rights or not, only a fool would wish to unleash the sleeping monster of religious intolerance.

This is exactly what I fear the religious right in our Parliament will do because they risk upsetting the delicate balance between the tolerance of diversity and the holding of sometimes very strong religious beliefs that has largely been maintained over the last 150 years or so.

Dave Ekins

If Israel Folau was born in NSW, does that not make him Australian rather than a Pacific Islander? Agree with all the sentiments expressed in this posting.

Bernard Corden

"War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength" - George Orwell.

Robert, I am about half way through your book and the descriptive passages of dusk in Bundi with the Imbrum River and evening meals are quite fascinating.

Robert Forster

Rugby Union, or any other sporting code, cannot be inclusive if it expels Pacific Islanders who embrace the same type of Christianity as Israel Folau.

If Folau is not reinstated, Rugby Union will have shown itself to have betrayed a preference - and therefore to be exclusive.

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