Israel Folau has been found to be in “high-level breach” of Rugby Australia’s professional code of conduct and could be sacked following a four day hearing that ended today. Sanctions are yet to be decided.
The three-member panel included John West QC (Chair), Kate Eastman SC (a Rugby Australia representative), and John Boultbee SC (elected from the Rugby Union’s Players Association).
Folau was challenging Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate his four-year, $4 million contract after they deemed one of his Instagram posts in breach of his employment contract.
The post, from April 10, was an image with text that listed “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators” as going to hell, and called them to repent. It ended with “Only Jesus saves.” To this, Folau added his own comment that read: “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
Folau’s Instagram feed is full of memes of Bible verses and statements like “Hell is real and there is no second chance.”
The post received widespread condemnation, and divided opinion within the Christian community. Many of those who have defended what they believe to be Folau’s right to express his religious beliefs have criticised the way he did so.
Freedom For Faith, an organisation advocating for religious freedom said of the verdict on Facebook that the outcome is “no real surprise”. The more interesting question is what happens next.
Wendy Francis, Queensland director of the Australian Christian Lobby told Eternity, “Today’s decision that Israel Folau has indeed breached Rugby Australia’s code of conduct signals a new era where people of faith can be removed from playing sport unless they agree not to spruik their beliefs publicly. This is a redefinition with huge implications for every Australian.
“What I can’t get over is that footballers have been in the spotlight for rape, domestic violence, coercion to have abortions, public drunkenness and the bad behaviour that accompanies it, and it seems to get a raised eyebrow or two, and then brushed under the magical carpet. But quoting the Bible publicly with a message that some find offensive, this is deemed to be an unforgivable ‘sin’. I wouldn’t personally have posted what Israel posted, but I am more than happy to stand with him. Because, quoting Israel himself, “I would sooner lose everything – friends, family, possessions, my career, the lot – and still stand with Jesus, than have all of those things and not stand beside Him”. It will be interesting to see what reaction there is from other players who have been supportive of Israel and whether the fallout from Rugby Australia’s decision is more than they bargained for.”
Folau has 72 hours to appeal the decision.