Rugby Australia evidently believes in its code of conduct. It is part of its modus operandi. RA considers its players to be paid employees and representatives of the game. Their public comments must affirm their allegiance to RA’s ethical standards as embodied in its code. RA has taken a lot of stick for its decision to terminate its contract with Israel Folau. The issue is now heading to the High Court with highly paid lawyers defending the Instagram preacher’s employment rights with what is reported to be a $A2 million “war chest” collected with the assistance of the Australian Christian Lobby.

Since the issue broke, I have been following the subsequent reports as closely as I can. But it seems that those advising the Tongan Rugby player think that this isssue has erupted at just the right time to become the “poster campaign” for those seeking to shore up “freedom of religion”. I think that this seriously mishandles both Folau’s sacking and the freedom of religion issue that arises because of the amendment to the Marriage Act in December, 2017.

High Court of Australia

The High Court of Australia on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. PICTURE: David Adams

 

"Will the ACL draw explicit attention to the act’s airbrushing of husband-wife marriage from its wording? Will it direct its concern about the panel’s failure to identify the act’s lack of respect for the male and female persons seeking to be wed as husband and wife in civil marriage? Without such political critique, I find it difficult to believe that those supporting Folau’s High Court case can appropriately position themselves on the question of freedom of religion."

It is true that the case is more than an “industrial matter”. But consider this. The Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter is now also holder of the industrial relations portfolio. Does that strike you as strange? Well, I suspect that there are those in the Coalition Government’s ranks who are keen for Folau’s employment case to be the “poster campaign” for “freedom of religion” and what is allowable in work contracts. The dual portfolio for the member for Pearce has all the hallmarks of a strategic move. But let’s also not forget that the Liberal-National coalition maintained a minimalist approach to discussion of freedom of religion during the election campaign we recently suffered. They have failed to disclose their legislative agenda in forthright and unambiguous terms, no doubt because their internal split is still raw and potentially toxic. Their party’s unity is still on a knife-edge but they show little regard for their accountability to electors on this issue. Their concern is not accountability to electors, but shoring up their standing in the polls.

There remains the serious failure of the Religious Freedom Review report provided by the Ruddock panel to the Federal Parliament’s Prime Minister in May, 2018. No-one on either side is talking about that, at least not publicly. We are still waiting for the consequential legislation despite the fact that the panel of jurists completely missed the problem created by the 2017 Marriage Act amendment to maintain due respect for husband-wife marriage. Such a view of marriage is believed by 32 per cent of the population but the mythology of “marriage equality” has blinded our politicians and their legal advisors to what anyone can see for themselves by simply reading the Marriage Act. Don’t take my word for it; read the act for yourself and make a judgement as to whether due respect is accorded to husband-wife marriage.

Will the ACL draw explicit attention to the act’s airbrushing of husband-wife marriage from its wording? Will it direct its concern about the panel’s failure of the panel to identify the act’s lack of respect for the male and female persons seeking to be wed as husband and wife in civil marriage? Without such political critique, I find it difficult to believe that those supporting Folau’s High Court case can appropriately position themselves on the question of freedom of religion. Consideration of Folau’s sacking, and his public comments about the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality raise the question about how belief in husband-wife marriage is to be presented in public. Those who believe their marriage to be a husband-wife union are in line with a long tradition that predates the arrival of the state and its legislation and its “Marriage Acts”. Those who believe marriage is not created by the state now confront the ruling legislation that suggests that it is. Those dissenting from the act’s statist view of marriage are now ignored publicly and we are left wondering the consequences that flow on from what is now the prevailing legal framework for parliaments around the country in their dealings with this institution. The Christian churches have been almost, if not totally, silent on this defining issue.

No-one involved in Folau’s case is going to ask me for my opinion about the High Court challenge. There is no reason why they should, but if I were asked I would simply advise Israel, as a fellow Christian who says he is seeking to bear public witness to Jesus Christ, to quit professional football (and the RA dogma that players are employees) and go and find an amateur team that will tolerate his views and at the same time enjoy him and his playing skills as he lives out his Christian life on the playing field in their midst.

Those in Federal Labor parliamentary ranks came out recently and suggested that Israel Folau’s comments about hell were “harmful”, putting vulnerable young people at risk. The allegation is that to say marriage is exclusively a husband-wife union is an inducement to youth suicide. OK. Let’s indulge this strategically narrowed speculation. Let’s indeed keep harmful consequences in mind. Let’s consider that possible connection seriously.

It's also about language. Have we heard from these same arbiters of the nation’s morality making a stand against the titles of recent books including one by Mark Manson and another by co-authors Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson - both of which employ a certain four letter word? But then, who is going to publicly stand up against this tidal wave of profanity? The word itself has for so long been used as a violent expletive that, in fact, denigrates, in a fundamental way, the most sensitive of all human acts of gender complementarity where a prospective father and a mother join bodily in order to procreate. But the term as used is rightly identified as “hate speech” and it is “harmful”. Let’s reflect and note just how embedded such hate, also implying hate and violence about marriage, is rooted in our lives. Let’s look at ourselves and examine our language and the harm it does, the deep-down harm on upcoming generations. Our taken-for-granted public language, because of such sexualised hate in the words we use, is deeply harmful to our persons and from a young age. 

Quite apart from Folau’s lack of perspective, the criticism that hones in on his Instagram posting is superficial and conveniently missing the point as long as “harmful consequences” are limited to one celebrity footballer’s “religious” comments. Going to the High Court to resolve an alleged code of conduct violation is not coming to grips with this issue. We need to embark on our own comprehensive self-criticism. The superficiality of the recent election campaign tells us that we voters and those for whom we voted are not as politically serious as they should be. Sure, let’s quit all hate-speech including the style of this latest narcisstic publishing that tries to give itself “likes” by marketing itself with this badge of an utterly failed liberation! 

But let us also reckon with the “harmful” character of public hypocrisy. Consider how RA’s code of conduct is applied in a thoroughly arbitrary fashion. It is as if the RA’s code has nothing to do with what Qantas’ business connections say to usAround the time Folau’s sacking hit the headlines, news media reports told us that Virgin Airlines was quitting its business alliance with Royal Brunei Airlines because of that kingdom’s laws requiring death by stoning for convicted homosexuals. Not so Qantas. The question then is this: how come RA, by adherence to its code of conduct, didn’t sever its ties with Qantas there and then? I guess RA’s code is administered to keep its “employees” in line and doesn’t cover sponsors. But if that is so, can RA expect that anyone can take its code seriously any more? The question has to be asked: Why doesn’t RA apply its code to the actions and connections of its sponsor?

A Christian political perspective should be disciplined by an ethic of love for all our neighbours. And that means developing a broader and comprehensive critique of the way “codes of conduct” are used and abused in all areas of our life, including employment, recreation, church membership, school attendance, organisational management, parliamentary representation, corporate sponsorship and publishing.