In the legal battle between the sacked footballer and the Australian Rugby Union, the former is on pretty solid ground. The Rugby Union is relying on an agreement with Folau, following an earlier identical furore, that he would desist citing his religious beliefs publicly.
The problem the ARU has is that such an agreement is illegal. Australian employment laws are quite specific, namely that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee on religious grounds, which is exactly what the ARU attempted to do with their agreement. In short one cannot contract outside the law.
To make it clear, you cannot write a written consent to be murdered. That would not protect your killer from prosecution. Nor can the ARU claim Israel damaged the sport as in fact they have, arguing that their principal sponsors are upset and could withdraw their vital financial support. The sponsors such as Qantas have all denied this although I suspect, knowing corporate types cowardice, they’re covering their backs.
There are circumstances where one could sack a supernaturalist nutter, such as if in the course of his or her duties they were handing out religious tracts to customers and continued doing so after being warned. In such circumstances in this age of offence-taking, that could cost customers. But Folau hardly fits that picture, rather he was quoting the bible on his personal web-site. No-one was forced to read it.
But let’s face it; had he written all sinners are destined for hell it would have been a source of amusement. His ‘crime’ was in specifying them he included the current most voguishly venerated section of society, namely homosexuals.
In hindsight the ARU should have ignored the reaction which was always a beat-up and allowed it to blow over, as it would have done.
I detest religion but take no offence when it’s pushed at me. A few years back there was a friendly-faced middle-age bloke who would stand on a box in Wellington’s Lambton Quay Jesusing away at passers by. He lightened one’s day, but specially mine after he shifted to Auckland’s Queen Street. Staggering back to our Auckland office one day with three colleagues, all of us fairly well-gone after a 3 hour mainly liquid lunch, he pointed an accusatory finger at us and bawled “Sinners.” We shook hands with him and congratulated him on his sharp perception.
I’ve taken the mickey out of Christians in my newspaper columns for half a century and while I can’t speak for all readers I can comment on the reaction I’ve received from clerics. If the article was funny I’ve received letters from vicars saying they enjoyed it. The exception are Catholic extremists who on occasion have pointlessly complained to the editors, pointless because the editors always ignored their moaning.
Only recently did we remove blasphemy from our legal system. It was punishable by imprisonment. Back in 1992, Mike Camp QC, who was known to act for me, received a phone call from the fretting Timaru Police Chief. He advised Mike that an Anglican vicar had just lodged a criminal blasphemy charge against me for my then nationally syndicated column, in the Timaru Herald. Oh glory be; I was ecstatic and told Mike to ring back and tell him he’d accept service of the writ. This was not the response the Police Chief was expecting.
“I’m not having you bastards coming down here and making idiots of us”, he complained. Mike insisted he do his duty and file proceedings and for a week we battled with him, probably this being the first time in history where an alleged law-breaker was demanding to be prosecuted.
The impasse broke when the Police Chief triumphantly rang to claim he was off the hook and he was sending us the reason. This turned out to be a small periodical, Pew News, published by another Timaru vicar, who had reprinted my article in it, saying it was very funny and Christians must be able to laugh at themselves. Dead right and so we all must, but these days with the Internet giving everyone a voice, there will always be offence takers. To restore sanity it’s time the media stopped giving space to the offence-taking brigade, for it’s their beat-up which has been singularly responsible for the Folau episode.
For readers entertainment I’ve republished below the column which induced the blasphemy complaint.