Contractual obligations or free speech?

  (28 June 19)
  by Greg Spearritt

The Israel Folau controversy touches a real nerve in contemporary Australia. I can see two possible takes on it.

First, that we should allow free speech in (almost all) cases. Obviously we shouldn’t be free to holler ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre when there is no fire, but there are good arguments for dealing with objectionable views through debate rather than through restricting their expression. (Thus Pru Goward: we should allow Folau to freely express himself, and laugh at how ridiculous his views are.)

Second, that we should allow organisations the right to stipulate values that should/shouldn’t be championed by those they employ. Rugby Australia is claiming breach of contract in the Folau case: he signed up knowing what the rules were, and he then blatantly breached RA’s code of conduct on more than one occasion.

A good case could be made for either of these positions. Unfortunately, Folau and his Australian Christian Lobby backers want a bob each way. They claim a right to freely express a view on religious matters even when it clashes with an organisation’s code of conduct… unless it’s a religious organisation, for example a religious school, in which case employees must toe the line and say or do nothing which goes against the school’s ethos.

On the substantive Folau issue, in particular that of the bible’s supposed condemnation of homosexuality, it’s pretty clear there’s very little scholarship behind him. For a start, there is no word in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek for ‘homosexuality’. The complexities of the issue are dealt with in many places – here, for example, and here and here.  

The other dimension to all this is the potential for harm to vulnerable young LGBTIQA+ people when celebrities – e.g. prominent sports people – mouth off from a position of naivety and ignorance. The greatest protection we can offer young LGBTI people is love and acceptance for who they are. Thank goodness many families already do this, and even some churches (e.g. some Anglican and some Pentecostal communities) are now doing it.

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