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:
Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________
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:
I confirm I have commenced court proceedings against Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs. I was hoping to resolve this matter before the Fair Work Commission, but unfortunately we were unable to do so. I have been blessed to have received the support of so many of you over my journey, and I want to thank you for every thought and prayer. It has meant so much to Maria and I and gives us strength for the road ahead. God bless!
Today my lawyers and I are going to the Fair Work Commission to meet with Rugby Australia for a conciliation. I am hoping for an apology from Rugby Australia and an acknowledgment that even if they disagree with my views, I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of losing my job. Australia is such an amazing multicultural country and I know we are strong enough to tolerate different views. I want to thank you all for your prayers and support. For those who are interested, I have posted an update and message of thanks on my website. God bless!