Unless you live under a rock and never read the newspapers, watch television, listen to the radio or are on social media, you will have heard of the mess former Rugby player Israel Folau has gotten himself into, by telling the world that homosexuals are going to hell. This is the second time he has done something like this, and Rugby Australia, had had enough and tore up his multi-million dollar contract1.
Of course, the Christians who actually believe the drivel Folau spouted, have come out in support of his right to tell all us sinners where we will be going. It almost goes without saying that like Folau, they also fail to see the irony of threatening atheists with hell should the latter not repent1.
After the initial whining from the religious nutters, all sorts of ultraconservatives have come out in support of Folau, and many of these are the same people who are quite ready to use the dog whistle against asylum-seekers, Aboriginals, African Australians, Muslims and sundry other people they do not like, and by disparaging them, gaining political mileage among the easily frightened and gullible2,3.
The ultraconservatives have maintained that the Folau saga is all about freedom of speech and that he should be allowed to say whatever he wants because it is part of his religion. What they seem to forget is that he did say what he wanted. However, when one says something, one has to be prepared to suffer the consequences. If I had publicly said something disparaging about a particular group of people (women, homosexuals, Polynesians, Africans, Aboriginals, take your pick), my workplace would probably have warned me the first time, and sacked me the second time for breaching the code of conduct to which I signed up when they employed me. This is precisely what happened to Folau. The fact that Folau believes he was hard done by is symptomatic of the belief by the religious that they are superior to everyone else and that they deserve special consideration. They have become used to this over many centuries.
Folau set up a GoFundMe account “to support my legal action”. However, he included a disclaimer declaring he actually had no obligation to use the money to finance his legal action4. His GoFundMe account garnered some many hundreds of thousands of dollars before it was taken down because it breached the service guidelines. GoFundMe stated that they would not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion. All donors are to be refunded their donations5. Then the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) jumped in to assist him, by opening up a fundraiser, having donated $100,000 themselves. At the time of writing that had reached over $2 million of its $3 million target. However, it has been ‘paused’ because of the concerns over the rather high valuation of Folau’s legal fees6. The fact that Folau has a property portfolio amounting to over $6 million, probably was also a concern4, given the survey conducted by conservative News.com indicated that two thirds of its presumably conservative readers thought Folau should fund his own legal campaign7.
Now Folau has appeared on Sky News with one of Australia’s most famous homosexuals, Alan Jones, who Folau presumably thinks will also be going to hell for his sexual orientation. In this interview, Folau stated that: “My identity is founded by what’s written in that book [the bible],” he said. “It’s who I am and how I conduct myself every day.”7 If this is the case, then presumably he doesn’t eat shellfish (Leviticus 11:10), nor does he have tattoos (Leviticus 19:28). Um, apart from those over his chest, right shoulder and right arm, that is. Of course, Folau is exceptionally selective in his following of ‘that book’, as are all those who profess to follow it.
Folau has clearly become the darling of the ultraconservatives in their support of free speech, but their assertion that free speech is important is also very selective. You only have to look at their treatment of Yassmin Abdel-Magied to see who they believe has the right to free speech. In 2017, Abdel-Magied tweeted “Lest we forget (Manus Nauru, Syria, Palestine….)”. Of course, the ultraconservatives, such as Rita Panahi and Alan Jones, and even the idiotic Pauline Hanson, piled on. Jones said, that Abdel-Magied was “un-Australian” and many called on her to be sacked from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation8. Despite the fact that Abdel-Magied deleted the tweet and apologised, the opprobrium was unrelenting, and she received numerous, and daily, death threats such that she felt unsafe, and moved from Australia to London. Indeed, the silly Prue MacSween on Chris Smith’s radio show said she’d be tempted to run Abdel-Magied over if she saw her while driving. She was taken to task over this, but replied that it was a joke and seemingly unaware of the irony of her tweeted assertion that “last time I looked this was a country of free speech”. Smith later apologised, and all was forgiven9. It is a shame they never extended that forgiveness to Abdel-Magied.
While several commentators (e.g. Peter van Onselen) have asserted that the supporters of Folau as well as his opponents are much the same10, I disagree. Folau has said that some people, because of who they are, will go to hell. If his opponents had said Polynesians should shut up, I’d probably agree with van Onselen. However, they haven’t; they are mostly only concerned with Folau’s vilification of homosexuals, not who he is, nor the colour of his skin. This is also clear from the hilarious responses from the supposedly hell-bound drunks, adulterers, fornicators and atheists. They were unconcerned by Folau’s vilification, because they chose that part of their lives, whereas homosexuals have not. It is who they are. That is the difference.
Van Onselen also said that the accusation of hypocrisy also applies to “LGBTI advocates who demand all bakers service gay weddings” but who “now applaud GoFundMe’s refusal to host Folau’s cause”. Here again, I disagree, and for much the same reason. GoFundMe’s response was not because Folau is of Polynesian extraction, but because of the vilification he spouted. Bakers refusing to serve homosexuals is simple discrimination against a person for who they are. Bakers in some parts of the country used to refuse to serve Aboriginals, now they cannot because there are laws against such discrimination. Such laws should apply to everyone, equally.