Christian group launches crowdfund in anti-gay row

Tuesday June 25 2019



Australian rugby star Israel Folau. AFP Photo.

Australian rugby star Israel Folau. AFP Photo. 

By AFP

A Christian group launched a crowdfunding campaign Tuesday for sacked Australian rugby star Israel Folau, after his original appeal to fight his sacking for homophobic comments was shut down over concerns it was discriminatory.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) website said it had raised Aus$430,000 (US$300,000) in a single morning for Folau's legal battle with former employer Rugby Australia.

The 30-year-old, a devout Christian, was sacked by the governing body last month for posting anti-gay comments on Instagram.

The group's managing director Martyn Iles said ACL would also be donating Aus$100,000 of its own funds towards Folau's cause "because it's right and it sets an important legal precedent".

"Many Australians want to support Izzy Folau because they feel his case is their case and they can help make a difference and show him he is not alone," he tweeted before the appeal went live.

Folau initially set up his appeal on GoFundMe, estimating he would need Aus$3.0 million to fight his sacking for posting that "hell awaits" gay people and others he considers sinners.

The appeal had raised more than Aus$700,000 (US$486,000) before GoFundMe shut it down on Monday, saying the platform would not "tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion".

Folau was fired last month after a Rugby Australia tribunal found him guilty of "high-level" misconduct over his social media posts.

He has taken his case to Australia's employment watchdog the Fair Work Commission, asserting that he simply posted sentiments from the Bible.

The issue has revived debate about the right to freedom of religious expression against restrictions on hate speech.

Australia's conservative government, which was re-elected in May, has vowed to enshrine religious freedom protections in law, while the ACL was vocal in opposing the introduction of gay marriage laws in 2017.

Folau's legal team and Rugby Australia officials will sit down for the face-to-face talks in Sydney on Friday as part of the employment watchdog's processes.

He is reportedly seeking Aus$10 million in damages, including for lost sponsorship and marketing opportunities.

Folau was on a four-year contract worth more than Aus$1.0 million annually when he was sacked.

His crowdfunding campaign had attracted criticism, with Australian media noting that he was one of the best-paid players in the world and owns a multi-million dollar property portfolio.

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