With Israel Folau the church demands a kind of free speech that keeps gays in the firing line | David Marr

As the archbishop of Sydney decries the rugby player’s sacking for his words, his church insists on sacking teachers for their sexuality

Pity these Christians. They’re lashing out, angry and terrified. Miranda Devine is warning them via the pages of the Sydney Daily Telegraph Australia faces a revolution of “coercion and bloodshed” à la Mexico in the 1920s unless we rally to the cause of Christianity and Israel Folau.

The madness is dialled up to the max. But I’ve been reporting faith and politics in Australia for nearly 40 years and I’ve seen all this before: militant Christians all over the shop, blind to their arrogance and contradictions.

Rigid ideologues, they sing great anthems to free speech. Warriors of discrimination, they condemn discrimination against Folau. No matter how cruel the doctrines they are pushing they see them washed clean as articles of faith.

The fact is, condemning gays to hell is vilification. Yes, St Paul was on the case way back at the start but that only makes it vilification with a pedigree.

While Folau isn’t calling for men like me to be stoned, whipped or pushed off high buildings, I reckon he is free to preach his horrible beliefs. But his freedom shouldn’t trample my freedom or the freedom of anyone else.

We are free to say he’s a dork to carry on like this about gays and drunks and idolaters. (That means Catholics, by the way.) And Land Rover is free to stop him promoting their luxury cars. And GoFundMe is free not to be the platform where he raises millions to fight Rugby Australia.

But to Folau’s Christian backers this notion of freedoms we all share doesn’t make sense. Why? Because for them putting the boot into gays is basic Christianity. This is hard for the rest of us to credit in 21st century Australia, but to make sense of the current uproar it needs to be faced.

These Christians – by no means all Christians – are willing to burn up huge amounts of political capital to keep and, if possible extend, their power to punish homosexuals. It’s a weird pivot of their faith.

This is not all they want the Morrison government to shore up with legislation, but it’s at the core of their demands. They are shy of saying it in so many words, of course, hence all the malarkey we’ve been hearing from them for the last couple of years about freedom.

Here’s a simple principle: being decent and kind requires no legislation. You only need a religious freedom act to shelter behind when you plan to be nasty – say to age-old targets of your wrath like gays.

So where does that leave Rugby Australia?

One of those attacking the code this week was Sydney’s Anglican archbishop, Glenn Davies, who eloquently defended Folau’s “right as a citizen to speak of what he believes without threat to his employment”.

Really? Is this the same archbishop who compelled 34 Anglican headmasters and headmistresses last year to sign an open letter demanding the law continue to allow them to sack gay teachers and expel gay students?

I asked His Grace if this same citizens’ right extended to teachers in Anglican schools? No was the answer that came back from his spokesman, Russell Powell. “This case of non faith-related employment should not be conflated with others.”

How silly of me! There’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us. Folau is free as a footballer to vilify homosexuals without losing his job but were he coaching rugby at a Sydney Anglican school and tweeting approval of gays it might well see him shown the door.

Here’s another simple principle: if you are demanding rights for yourself which you won’t extend to others, that’s not freedom. It’s privilege.

We’re in the midst of this pandemonium because Folau changed his mind. For a million bucks a year, he agreed to go easy on denouncing, among other vices, the evils of homosexuality. He traded his freedom of speech.

So why say yes in the first place if that’s such a profound violation of his rights and his faith? And why does he expect more millions from Rugby Australia because he’s copped the ordinary consequences of going back on his word?

Beneath this is the deeper question on which the debate is now focusing, the question Folau plans to pursue through the courts: whether Rugby Australia had the right (that word again) to ask him in the first place to tone his preaching down.

Rugby Australia reckons hounding fags is not a good look in this day and age. Hence the deal they struck with their star. Many Australians – including airlines, fundraising websites and luxury car dealers – agree wholeheartedly. But not a formidable number of angry Christian dissenters.

So what are they fighting for? Free speech, but free speech of a particular kind that keeps gays in the firing line. As Australia succumbs to secular values on marriage and sex and family, that’s getting harder and the Christian mission more urgent.

So his target is everything. If Folau were insisting on vilifying, say, Jews and the disabled, would anyone object to Rugby Australia insisting he shut up about it?


David Marr

The GuardianTramp

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