Eight months after Rugby Australia sacked star fullback Israel Folau for expressing his faith on Instagram, the two parties have settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Many Australians—and people the world over—have watched this story with interest, because of its implications for religious freedom. Naturally, the question many now ask is “Who won?”
The answer to this isn’t entirely clear-cut. Had the battle gone all the way to the courts, the result might have been more decisive. But to settle out-of-court is, by definition, to compromise. As such, there are wins and losses for both sides.
From the perspective of Israel Folau and the platform of religious freedom that he represented, let’s consider three wins and three losses.
Win #1—It was a clean fight
Israel Folau wasn’t just standing for the cause of religious freedom. In the eyes of all watching, he was also representing Jesus—regardless of how Christians or non-Christians view his specific beliefs.
An amicable settlement, therefore, is better than a dirty fight. For all else that could be said about
this battle, Australians got to see a religious sportsman play clean and speak graciously in the face of unfair treatment.
Given that Folau had his career and reputation dismantled, this is a striking example of the kind of peacemaking that Jesus spoke of. It’s far better than the whinging and victimhood mentality that we see so much of today.
Win #2—Rugby Australia apologised
Whichever way you cut it, one of Australia’s biggest sporting bodies terminated a high-profile athlete because of his religious beliefs.
The joint statement that Rugby Australia signed their name to said that Folau’s social media posts reflected his “genuinely-held religious beliefs” and that he “did not intend to harm or offend any person when he uploaded the post”. While RA stopped short of apologising for his unfair dismissal, they did apologise “for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus”.
In the video that Israel and his wife Maria later posted online, they said,
“We are extremely pleased with the settlement reached today… 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.”
This is a personal victory for the Folaus, but it’s also a result that will give pause to other corporate giants who are tempted to fire employees for their faith.
Win #3—Folau was compensated
Izzy was seeking $14 million in damages, as compensation for his $5 million torn-up contract, and for the damage done to his reputation and rugby career.
The amount that Rugby Australia paid him remains undisclosed. The Daily Mail speculated a figure of $8 million, but RA boss Raelene Castle called this “wildly inaccurate”.
We may never know the amount Israel settled for, but it was one that he and his wife were “extremely pleased with”.
Regardless of what Izzy deserved or what he was paid, this also sends a strong message to Australian employers: religious discrimination will hurt the pocketbook. Get woke, go broke.
But the Folau saga isn’t all good news for religious freedom.
Loss #1—Izzy would have lost but for his fame
Israel Folau is arguably Australia’s most recognisable sports figure. Even before this year’s controversy, he was considered one of the best rugby players in the world, and a key to Australia’s World Cup hopes.
Because of his celebrity status, normally-quiet Australians were able to voice their loud disapproval of Rugby Australia’s unfair treatment of him.
So imagine if Folau wasn’t famous. The reality is, any victory Israel won in this settlement depended in large part on his high profile.
But there are a growing number of other Aussies who have been discriminated against, away from the media’s watchful eye. With no fame or fanfare, who will defend the next targets for religious discrimination? How will we even find out about them?
How long until it’s you or me?
Loss #2—The march of intolerance continues
Rugby Australia apologised for “any hurt or harm caused” to Izzy, but once the settlement was done and dusted, they continued with the very mantras that caused them so much trouble in the first place.
“We stick to our values that inclusiveness is absolutely core to the key of rugby,” said Raelene Castle after the settlement. “Everybody in rugby needs to be included regardless of what their background is.”
All these months later, no one at Rugby Australia seems to understand the glaring irony and stark hypocrisy in such pronouncements. Israel Folau was explicitly excluded for his faith. Because he believed and paraphrased the Bible, he somehow doesn’t count in the “everybody”.
The reality is that for Rugby Australia and every other body that has bought into the new woke ideology, tolerance is only extended to those who think exactly the same as them.
Even a saga as big as this doesn’t seem to shake their intolerant resolve.
Loss #3—Izzy conceded more than he should have
Israel and his wife Maria are to be commended for how they have handled themselves throughout the dramas of 2019.
And yet while they were well-intentioned in the joint statement that they released with RA, they may have conceded more than they intended to.
The statement read, “Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he… shares Rugby Australia’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.”
If Rugby Australia’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity is what drove them to sack Israel in the first place, I’m not sure he should share that commitment.
Inclusiveness and diversity are good values, to be sure. But only if they leave room for people who believe the Bible, too.
“Inclusiveness and diversity” are words that ring hollow if they continue to be used to discriminate against people of faith.
Let’s just hope that Rugby Australia have learnt their lesson, and that other Australian employers have been watching closely.