Former rugby player Israel Folau said he’s “looking forward” to the federal government passing stronger religious freedom laws, after reaching a settlement with Rugby Australia over his homophobic comments.
In a video posted to his website on Wednesday, Folau said he felt “vindicated” by the settlement and hoped to see expanded religious freedom laws in future.
“With today’s acknowledgment and apology by Rugby Australia, we have been vindicated and can now move on with our lives to focus on our faith and our family,” Folau said.
“We now look forward to the federal government enacting the legislation necessary to further protect and strengthen these rights for all Australians.”
Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson Martin Iles said the settlement “sets a clear precedent for every bureaucrat, manager, or person in a position of power, that they cannot ruin someone’s career because they don’t like what they believe”.
“We look forward to the federal government producing reforms that prevent taxing and drawn-out legal processes like this in future,” Iles said.
While Folau’s payout is confidential, the Daily Telegraph reported the figure to be $8 million and The Australian reported it to be “several million dollars”. Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle tweeted that the reports are “wildly inaccurate”.
In a press conference today, she defended Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate Folau’s contract and reach a confidential settlement.
“We didn’t get it wrong. At the end of the day we stood up for the values of Rugby Australia,” Castle said.
“The person that chose to breach the code of conduct was found guilty and his contract was ultimately terminated because of that. That stands up and continues to say, ‘This is an inclusive sport.’ Behaviour and commentary of this type is not acceptable in our sport and everybody in rugby needs to be included, regardless of what their background is.”
She added that “there was an apology both ways” as both parties expressed their regret in a joint statement.
“That apology was both ways because this has been very stressful, it’s been a very hard time for the Folaus and it’s a very hard time for Rugby Australia. At the end of the day, it was about that difficult time that Rugby Australia apologised for, but we stand by our decision that we have been through,” Castle said.
This week, Folau became embroiled in another legal battle over his anti-gay comments, with Sydney gay activist Garry Burns suing him for $100,000.
In his submission to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, Burns said Folau’s linking of homosexuality to natural disasters was “objectively capable of incitement of contempt and/or hatred of homosexual persons”.
Burns successfully sued radio broadcaster John Laws for $10,000 in 2004 over anti-gay comments and is known for lodging anti-discrimination complaints using the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.