Australian rugby phenomenon Israel Folau has reached a financial settlement with his former employer after having his playing contract terminated over an Instagram post.
Folau insisted that Rugby Australia’s abrupt ending of his employment was unfair and had been fighting a protracted legal battle on the grounds of religious discrimination — he was suing for around $9.5 million.
According to a joint statement on Wednesday, the two parties agreed to an undisclosed settlement sum.
“Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he does not condone discrimination of any kind against any person on the grounds of their sexuality,” Folau’s legal team said in a statement, according to the BBC.
Rugby Australia noted that “inclusiveness is one of rugby’s core values and it welcomes all people to the game, including all members of the LGBTI community.”
“While it was not Rugby Australia’s intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus,” the statement continued, according to the Guardian. “Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused.”
Reacting to the news, LGBT rights campaigners Equality Australia said that welcomed the end of what they called a “divisive and hurtful period for LGBTIQ+ people in rugby, in sport and more generally.”
What is the background?
In April of this year, Folau posted a graphic to Instagram that paraphrased 1 Corinthians 6:9 and read:
“Drunks, homosexuals, drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters,” before imploring “HELL AWAITS YOU,” and “REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES.”
The post is still live on his account:
A short time later, his playing contract was terminated and a number of his commercial endorsements were axed. As a result of the action taken against him, Folau was stripped of his spot in the Wallabies national squad ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Since then, shocking details have emerged from the case, including an admission by Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle that she had instructed her staff to closely monitor Folau’s personal social media accounts on the lookout for any posts they didn’t agree with.
Folau’s case has also garnered a huge amount of support from free speech campaigners and religious freedom advocates. After the player’s GoFundMe was shut down, faith-based advocacy group “The Australian Christian Lobby” set up an alternative campaign on their platform, taking donations of over $2 million to help Folau with his legal costs.
The case has also invited worldwide media attention, as it snowballed into one of the most highly publicized religious freedom lawsuits in years. Visit Folau’s website and you are met with the pressing question: “do you believe in the right of Australians to practise their religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace?”
This central issue was both the basis upon which Folau’s case was lodged and was likely the determining factor for the settlement being agreed by both parties. Spaking a video released following the final meeting, Folau said he felt “vindicated” by the agreement.
“We are extremely pleased with the settlement reached today,” he explained.
“With today’s acknowledgment and apology by Rugby Australia we have been vindicated and can now move on with our lives to focus on our faith and our family.”
Israel went on to “thank God for His guidance and strength” and his supporters for their “thoughts and prayers.”
“We started this journey on behalf of all people of faith.. to protect their rights of freedom of speech and religion,” Folau concluded. “We now look forward to the federal government enacting the legislation necessary to further protect and strengthen these rights for all Australians.”
Despite the controversy, Folau continues to post messages of faith on Instagram: