Senator Eric Abetz has taken up the cause of Israel Folau. He has taken the matter to the fair Work Commission, based on the fact that Israel was dismissed for expressing his Christian views outside the workplace.
He stated, ‘The common understanding of the Fair Work Act from all parties is that an employee cannot be sacked over their religious views.’ He emphasised that Folau wrote on social media outside the work environment and was free to do so. Religious freedom.
Barnaby Joyce ‘is pushing for religious belief to be exempt from employment contracts’. (SBS News)
Israel Folau is simply a case in point. He was treated unjustly as the law currently stands. Circumstances do seem to have been manipulated against him. He did appear to run foul of the politically-correct brigade and social warrior commerce with which society has now been saddled. We ought not to shrink from our blood-bought family connection with him.
But we must make ourselves fully aware of what his reinstatement may mean for us all. I speak not as a lawyer—I am not a lawyer’s bootlace. I am reflecting as an observer of human nature. Social attitudes are not being framed by the law; the law is being adjusted by social attitudes and human nature. We are not where we are because in the first instance the law has changed, but because social attitudes have changed. In the Folau case, the law was secondary to the affronted new ideologies.
If exonerated and reinstated, Israel Folau will become the precedent, not just for commercial entities but also Christian organisations who wish their employees to uphold the organisation’s core doctrines and practices. If the ruling is that ‘Religious belief cannot be grounds for dismissal’, it will cut both ways.
It will mean that in Christian school, for example, a teacher with previously undisclosed private beliefs or sexual proclivities or whatever, who begins to champion those views in public, outside the workplace, he or she will not be able to be dismissed. Even if expressed in social media with a million followers, thereby denigrating the organisation by association, if the views can be brought under the heading ‘religious belief’ it will not be a dismissible offense.
That is the ‘Folau’ argument—private religious views expressed in his own personal social media accounts do not represent a dismissible offense.
And if Barnaby Joyce’s argument gets up, nor will any contract be able to include clauses that might suggest restrictions on a religious basis. Unless there are exemptions for religious organisations. And, by observation, exemptions really get up the nose of our militant detractors. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that exemptions would seem to become less likely to be granted if we are the ones currently arguing against the right to dismiss on religious grounds. If we wish to bind Rugby Australia, for example, why ought we not be bound?
We cannot abandon brothers and sisters who fall foul of political correctness or any of the current brace of fashionable neo-Marxist ideologies. But we need to structure into our thinking that justice is almost always a two-edged sword, because it is legislated and administered by frail humanity.
It is important to recognise this. There is a possibility that a victory in which we see the law overturn the right of any entity to terminate the employment of someone on religious grounds will be a Pyrrhic victory. The loss will be our freedom as Christians to restrict or terminate an employee on the basis of religious grounds. Even gross anti-Christian sentiments expressed on social media. And, as per Barnaby Joyce, we will not be able to write escape clauses into contracts.
In response, to invent a secondary or trumped-up reason for dismissal would make us like those we oppose. To become champions of the restriction of an employee’s religious freedom would be equally untenable when we currently argue for no restriction for Israel Folau. Either way, we will have been swept into the corner we actually helped to construct.
We ought to stand with beleaguered brothers and sisters! But we need to be ready for the ramifications. Prepared can become pre-prayed. And this can perhaps help us work towards finding solutions outside the law courts (as well as in them).
In many of the serious documents coming from the first few centuries of our faith, when our brothers and sisters faced Roman brutality far greater than we can possibly imagine, they did not—nor could they—argue at law for their rights at law. Their defence was their godly lives and the tangible displays of community that saw them cover the loss and deprivation of any and all members who suffered the attacks of the authorities. Absorbing them into the community and family that transcended all human associations, providing for lost income or resources.
This did two things. It provided for needs in a society in which there was no government assistance. More significantly, it gave a visible demonstration of a better Kingdom. It showed that Christ was able to create one new community, one new people, out of men and women from many different racial and social backgrounds.
The core issue is that dependence on human justice, presided over by people of conflicting worldviews, is not going to be our lasting security. It comes down to that tenuous phrase, ‘legal opinion’. It is not an absolute. We recognise that there is no absolute justice outside the infinite wisdom and justice of the Father.
What’s the ultimate answer for life in a fallen world? When every ‘power’ is against us, there may be just one. Do as Jesus did,
‘When they hurled their insults at him, [Jesus] did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.’
— 1 Peter 2:23
For Jesus, as we know, it meant a barbaric death. He submerged his ‘human rights’ under the foreknowledge and wisdom of his Father. And isn’t the world blessed as a result?