The Australian Christian Lobby might say "let him play", but Israel Folau has time and time again shown he cannot be a team player or play by the rules.
In 2019, Rugby Australia sacked Folau for breaching its social media code of conduct for the posts he made. The social media posts stated "Drunks, Homosexuals ... Hell awaits You". Folau is a strict, conservative Christian, who also recently claimed fatal bushfires were God's punishment for legalised abortion and same-sex marriage.
The Australian Christian Lobby, in their support for Folau, set up a GoFundMe account to fund a legal case against his previous employer, demanding $14 million in compensation and an apology for what he argued was unlawful dismissal. This matter was later settled via videocall after an initial mediation at the Federal Court was suspended, due to negotiations lasting over 12 hours. After this, Rugby Australia came out with a public apology for causing any harm to the Folau family.
Last week, the Australian Christian Lobby spent a large amount of money to take out a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph, lobbying the NRL to allow Folau back into rugby league and launching the hashtag #lethimplay.
I am concerned that a return of Folau would mean that the sport today would be condoning such tiresome homophobia. Such a move would do little to help build a fair and more equitable Australia.
Sporting figures shouldn't use their profile to denigrate and vilify others. Sporting figures have a responsibility to not spread speech that incites division or discrimination, but bring people together.
Australians and Australian sport do not want players espousing dangerous speech to millions of fans, some of which are young and impressionable, and perhaps LGBTIQ themselves. Further to this, there are many Christians who support LGBTIQ people, and the views and actions of the Australian Christian Lobby do not actually reflect the broader faith-based community.
This fact, as well as the way the Australian Christian Lobby is supporting bills in the NSW Parliament to silence transgender students and teachers, is why we should not take them seriously when it comes to their purported support for freedom of speech.
The current debate about LGBTIQ communities and communities of faith was ignited two year ago, and little progress has been made to bring the community together. Instead, last week on Q+A, we saw the latest instance of the Australian Christian Lobby, led by Martyn Iles, using Folau and his case as a battering ram to divide Australians.
To date we have not seen groups like the Australian Christian Lobby or any of our leaders attempt to bring religious and LGBTIQ communities together on this issue. Instead they try to wedge us against one another. As we saw last Monday, with Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman declaring he has "no intention of repenting being gay", who we love and how we govern our lives are deeply divisive.
I have mentioned before in these pages that I grew up with religion around me, and I am well aware of the important role it plays in one's life. I grew up in Sydney's Hills District, colloquially known as the "Australia's Bible belt" and the birthplace of Hillsong. I spent my time in school surrounded by many conservative - sometimes religious - peers and teachers.
But this conversation about Israel Folau, and by extension religion, should be shaped by the need to give people of faith a shield, not a sword. There is a genuine gap in the law when it comes to people of faith being protected. Governments should legislate these same rights and protections to all communities.
What we do not want is to allow people to use their profile to denigrate and vilify others. We do not want people to feel unsafe in their workplaces, their schools, their churches and their communities.
Folau and the Australian Christian Lobby have a responsibility to not spread speech that incites division or discrimination. In the tradition of Christian faith, they should be focused on bringing people together.
- Jack Whitney is co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.