Israel Folau
Israel Folau

Folau and Yassmin both deserve free speech

SACKING or censuring should never have been under consideration for rugby player Israel Folau.

Sponsorships should never have been on the line.

He is guilty of speaking his mind and sharing his belief, not encouraging hatred and violence.

And it is possible to support Folau's right to express an opinion, his right to his profound religious convictions and also to believe he is incredibly insensitive and ridiculously judgmental at the same time.

These are not incompatible.

Folau did not incite or encourage marginalisation. He did not say he hated gay people and everyone else should too.

He responded to a question from an Instagram follower after a post he made about his torn

hamstring making him feel despondent. He said he had turned to his god and the Bible for strength.

This week, on the Players Voice blog, he explained more fully his position.

He said he had simply reiterated what he believed the Bible said, which was that the unrighteous will not inherent the kingdom of God.

In some Bible versions, the unrighteous are listed as drunkards, gluttons, thieves, fanatics, tricksters, and the greedy, sexually immoral or gay.

Folau is guilty of speaking his mind and sharing his beliefs, not encouraging hatred and violence. (Pic: Hannah Peters)
Folau is guilty of speaking his mind and sharing his beliefs, not encouraging hatred and violence. (Pic: Hannah Peters)

Folau wrote that this indeed included a broad range of sins, and that he was guilty of many of these himself.

He said the truth was sometimes difficult to hear, and that he believed that if people guilty of these sins did not 'fess up and ask for forgiveness, they were headed to hell.

He said it was his duty as a Christian to point that out, in the hope of saving souls.

That was all.

His opinion is unpopular, as the cacophony that has followed has affirmed.

It was judgmental, rude and insensitive.

But is it hateful, dangerous or violent? No, it is not.

It was on a par with me writing that feeding low-nutrient, high-sugar food to obese children was tantamount to child abuse.

Or that parents were squarely responsible for creating a generation with poor life skills and shoddier resilience.

I have written these things. They might not have been popular, but I was not trying to incite hatred towards those groups.

A person has the right to flap their gums as much as the right to zip their lips. (Pic: supplied)
A person has the right to flap their gums as much as the right to zip their lips. (Pic: supplied)

Saying Folau was homophobic (frightened of or disturbed by homosexuals) or hateful in spelling out his beliefs is reminiscent of the treatment of Yassmin Abdel-Magied over her thoughtless tweet on Anzac Day.

She was similarly insensitive and her comment about considering asylum seekers and other

marginalised people on Anzac Day was ill-timed, but it was not illegal.

We treat outrage like a buffet: we are selective about it.

And even though there is no right to free speech in Australia, we are very quick to remove the right to access the microphone if we do not like what we hear.

Words do matter. When they come from a sporting hero or one who is idolised (also a sin, according to fundamentalist Christians, it should be noted), they matter more.

And Folau's expression of opinion is a demonstration of a liberty we enjoy as part of living in a democracy.

A person has the right to flap their gums as much as right to zip their lips.

To borrow from Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her writings about the life of Voltaire, I and many others do not agree with what Folau said, but we will ferociously defend his right to say it.

After all, to be intolerant towards his beliefs is also bigotry.

Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a journalist and journalism lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast.



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