Israel Folau and the right to dissent

“I disagree with everything you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”


I’m a free speech absolutist. Sure, yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theatre is idiotic and there are a thousand details we could debate but it comes down to this: I don’t want anyone to tell me that I cannot speak my mind. Nor should you, or anyone else.


Israel tweeted a meme: “Warning: drunks, adulterers, homosexuals, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolalors. Hell awaits you – Repent – Only Jesus saves.” Gary Ablett liked it. The media described it as an “homophobic rant.” Most everyone is covered there, I’m guilty of repeated drunkeness, etc, and much random fornication, we all lie, Catholics have been accused of idolatry.


I was born rational and grew up in serious Catholic world, they lost me at the First Confession – “I’m seven, I haven’t done anything!” – rock and roll drew me to the inner city where I met every example that Israel mentioned and a few more he might not imagine. I learned that everyone is an individual, all capable of being stupid and stinky and brilliant and beautiful, all with opinions of their own.


My parents taught me to be polite and respectful and I am – mostly. Good manners grease the wheels of society and seem to be evermore rare. I lack the outrage gene. I reckon the Western concept of ‘rule of law’ is worthwhile.


Israel Folau is being hounded from his job for stating his religious beliefs. You may not agree with them. I don’t. Many of the Abrahamic faiths do.


Jack de Belin has a case in Federal Court, fighting his suspension from the NRL on account of him facing an assault charge.  If one quarter of those accounts is proven then he deserves everything thrown at him, slapping his wife while she was carrying his child is weak and disgusting.  But he is innocent until proven guilty.


Israel’s personal reputation is spotless. However, and here’s the rub, he signed a contract that allegedly barred him from social media. His twitter profile makes no mention of rugby, only his religion.


Would you sign a work contract that barred you from expressing a personal opinion? We’ve already seen cases of public servants being sacked for writing a criticism of their department. I heard ARU folks on the radio talking about love and tolerance, just not for Izzy.


A few years ago I was doing a gardening job and got talking to one of the young blokes renting the house. He was a serious Christian.


“God loves everybody. So it’s not for me to judge them.”


If Israel is sacked for stating his beliefs, then who’s next? Free speech must be absolute because once you make the tiniest exception you crack the door open for another thousand exceptions.


“And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.”


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About Earl O'Neill

Freelance gardener, I've thousands of books, thousands of records, one fast motorcycle and one gorgeous smart funny sexy woman. Life's pretty darn neat.


  1. Earl O'Neill says

    Play loud thru yr stereo:

  2. Earl, this is one giant can-o-worms. Whilst someone should be allowed to espouse their beliefs, he is an employee of Australian Rugby who wish to be seen as all-inclusive. I can see why Australian Rugby don’t want their stars publicly calling certain people sinners, especially when at least some of those people also have religious faith. There are plenty of people who have been sacked by their employer for posting ‘inappropriate’ comments on social media.
    Folau has already been warned about such posts and he ignored the warning. What to do? It would have been largely uncontroversial had the media not got hold of it. This is the age of social media outrage…and the corporate ‘brand’ and sponsors and…

  3. Mark Duffett says

    As my pastor said on Sunday, the constructive feedback he would have given Izzy would have been that he should have gone on to emphasise the Christian orthodoxy that *everyone* is a sinner, not just “certain people”.

    The other snag is that taking Christian faith and tenets seriously means telling other people about it. It thus becomes hard or impossible to avoid restrictions on statements becoming restrictions on faith.

    If posting what are basically paraphrased Bible verses (however counterproductive or theologically suspect) is ‘inappropriate comment’, we have arrived at a bad place.

  4. Rabid Dog says

    With rights come responsibilities.
    Also, as an employee in a public hospital, I am not permitted to comment on some things either. By dint of my profession, and my colleagues knowing who I am, I am not permitted to comment upon patients. Each job/position has its responsibilities. Israel knew his – he like the rest of us signed a contract stating hte same – fuck, was he even reprimanded for the same thing only a year ago?

  5. Monitor lizard says

    Sorry Earl, it’s a grand notion, but free speech can never be absolute. The world has too many nutters for that to ever be the case. Absolute free speech means a platform for holocaust deniers, for one. Would we want that? Folau’s rant transgressed not only his contract, but civilized discourse, and I can’t see how any reasonable person would want it accommodated under constructs such as free speech.

  6. DBalassone says

    I don’t agree with what Israel tweeted, nor do I support his choice to air this belief. But I’m not sure he can be punished for this, other than in the court of public opinion. Because where do we stop?
    For instance, does Australia withdraw from the 2022 in Qatar now? Will Barry Humphries be banned from the stage? Will the politicians who voted ‘no’ be turfed from parliament?

  7. Not with you on this one Earl. My political mentor always quoted the RH Tawney maxim “freedom for the pike is death for the minnow”. Folau is free to say what he likes. He is not free from the consequences of his words. Words can explain and motivate, or that can hurt and humiliate.
    Its why we have defamation laws, so people can’t just say whatever comes into their heads that hurts another unfairly. Why do fundamentalists like Folau always have to quote the Old Testament – the books of the desert tribes – rather than Jesus’ gospels of hope and liberation in the New Testament.
    Folau is paid as much money not just because of his sporting ability but because it attaches the marketing brand of the ARU. No employee is free to damage their employer’s marketing brand – directly or indirectly.
    There is also the impact on team cohesion. While any organisation has a range of people with diverse views and backgrounds – there is a point at which the other employees just say “we don’t want to work with this wack job”.
    Old Testament fear of hellfire is an immature and ineffective and damaging way to get anyone to change their behaviours. Folau can say whatever he likes. He’s not in jail. We just don’t have to listen, watch him play or employ him.

  8. I wonder whether a big shiny disclaimer in his twitter account, to the effect that any opinions expressed by him are solely those of himself as a private citizen and not to be considered in any way endorsed by the NRL, might have helped him avoid trouble.

  9. Sorry Earl. I am a believer in free speech. But there is a level of responsibility that comes with that freedom.

    Israel is certainly entitled to his beliefs, and to say whatever he wants, but there are consequences. Particularly for a sportsman who is getting paid a 7-figure sum by an organisation to whom those views are abhorrent.

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I’m surprised Izzy and Gazza had a go at the idolaters. Aren’t they/we the one’s that helped turn them into golden calves?
    No such thing as ‘free speech’. We are always judged on what we say and how we say it from the intimate to the public. Those judgments change as knowledge evolves. 20 years ago hardly anyone would have batted an eyelid, now people refuse to let that shit go unchallenged and that is not a bad thing in a true democracy.

  11. Frank Taylor says

    The secular society.
    “In studies of religion, modern democracies are generally recognized as secular. This due to the near-complete freedom of religion (beliefs on religion generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions.” – Wikipedia
    A secular society, by definition, is a TOLERANT society. It allows its citizens to hold a variety of (private) religious and cultural beliefs within a framework of civil laws and customs that respect these differences in the interest of society AS A WHOLE.
    However, there has to be a line in the sand somewhere, and, like bigamy (allowed in the Mormon and other religious faiths) this is not legally allowed.
    I put Falou’s comments squarely in this category.
    Like the Mormans, he has a certain religious belief which he may privately hold, however, as a public figure and a genuine role-model, this is a bridge too far.
    This is hate-speak using the cover of a religious belief.
    Hate-speak is not any indicator of a tolerant, secular society by any measure.
    I personally do not see any difference between a young Adolf Hitler thumping a a podium in Munich denouncing the Jewish race (where did that lead us?), and a young (probably a similar age) Israel Falou, banging away on his podium – Twitter or Facebook – denouncing homosexuals.
    Rugby Australia, or whoever has his playing contract, has EVERY right to terminate his contract, as he has, indeed, brought his game, his code, our society, into disrepute.

  12. His views are disgusting. I will exercise my right to keep telling that to him and to his employers and their sponsors. What they choose to do about it is up to them.

  13. Michael Viljoen says

    From what I read in the newspapers, RA forgot to put a Social Media clause in Izzy’s contract. So he won’t have broken his contract at all. So they will have to argue about whether he has broken the Players Code of Conduct, or brought the game into disrepute. I can’t see how RA could possibly win that argument in court.

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