A new fundraiser launched by a Christian advocacy group on behalf of embattled rugby player Israel Folau has raised over $1.5 million.
The campaign, launched by a group called the Australian Christian Lobby, has been soaring by over $1,000 every single minute after GoFundMe pulled the plug on the original fundraiser, citing a violation of its terms.
“Recently the online fundraising platform GoFundMe shut down Israel Folau’s legal defence fund and turned away hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations,” wrote Australian Christian Lobby’s Managing Director, Martyn Iles.
“On behalf of the Australian Christian Lobby, I have spoken to Israel Folau to let him know that ACL will be donating $100,000 to his legal defence, because it’s right and it sets an important legal precedent.”
Australian Christians worried about being fired for expressing their faith
Despite being heavily criticized in the mainstream media, Folau has enjoyed vast swathes of support, including from leading religious figures.
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, told the Australian that the attacks against Israel’s religious beliefs “smacks of a new and ugly Australia where dissent from narrow cultural views is not tolerated.”
“The clear support of ordinary Christians has been ignored, marginalised and silenced,” the Archbishop added. “Many commentators (and many politicians) have failed to understand the precious nature of conscience and belief and its power in the lives of ordinary Australians. Loud, intolerant voices swamp the quiet faith of many.”
The moderator of the New South Wales Presbyterian Church, Kamal Weerakoon said his congregation was getting increasingly concerned by the level of religious intolerance in their nation.
“People in my congregation are frightened at what has happened to [Folau],” he noted to the outlet.
“They worry about what will happen if they post ‘Merry Christmas, Jesus came for you’ on their Facebook. Are they going to lose their job?”
Support from across the aisle
Though Folau has many detractors, he has also managed to win over the support of those from the other end of the political spectrum — such as
Labor left frontbencher and same-sex marriage advocate, Stephen Jones.
Jones lambasted GoFundMe and Rugby Australia for “shunning” Folau’s deeply-held religious beliefs and called for a more “civil, mature and honest debate” on the issue.
In addition, the former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, insisted that Folau was entitled to his religious views.
“It’s foolish and disproportionate to prevent him from preaching something that he believes,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Colossal lawsuit lodged
In a case lodged with Australia’s Fair Workplace Commission, an industrial relations tribunal, Folau is reported to be seeking “substantial remedies,” amounting to $10 million, in compensation for his highly-publicized firing for sharing a Bible verse on his Instagram account.
“Ours is an amazing country built on important principles, including freedom of religion. A nation made up of so many different faiths and cultural backgrounds will never be truly rich unless this freedom applies to all of us,” Folau said in a statement, according to the BBC.
“The messages of support we have received over these difficult few weeks have made me realise there are many Australians who feel their fundamental rights are being steadily eroded.”
Folau is reported to have hired a top legal team, which will likely cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.
“I know I am putting myself on the line – this action will be very costly in terms of time, money and reputation – but I do not intend to stop now,” Folau explained, according to Sky News.
GoFundMe makes no apology for pulling the plug
GoFundMe reportedly shut down the fundraising page at the weekend after it had raised around $750,000. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the online platform says his campaign “breached its terms of service.”
“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity,” said GoFundMe spokeswoman Nicola Britton in a statement, according to the BBC.
“While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion,” Britton added.