Former Australian rugby star Israel Folau will likely take his religious discrimination case to federal court after failing to come to an agreed settlement with his former employer, Rugby Australia.
Rugby Australia terminated his multi-million dollar contract back in May after Folau refused to take down a post which called on sinners to repent.
Both Folau and Rugby Australia said they were “disappointed” by the outcome of a Fair Work Commission conciliation, which sought to bring an end to the dispute.
Folau’s fundraiser hits $2 million
Shortly after GoFundMe pulled Folau’s fundraising page, conservative group the Australian Christian Lobby helped the player launch a second initiative. Incredibly, the campaign raised over $2 million to help Folau with his soaring legal costs.
“Rugby Australia tore up my employment contract and ended my playing career for sharing a message from the Bible,” Folau said in his latest announcement, ahead of the commission meeting.
“I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or exclusion,” Folau added. “Australia is such an amazing multi-cultural country. I know we are strong enough to tolerate different views without firing people from their jobs for expressing religious beliefs that not everybody agrees with.”
Following the failed meeting, Folau’s lawyer George Haros said that “unless things change we’ll be heading to court,” according to the BBC.
“Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby Union are incredibly disappointed that the Fair Work conciliation has been unsuccessful and did not reach a resolution,” said Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union in a joint statement.
“We remain confident in our processes and will continue to do what is required to defend the values that underpin our game.”
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.