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The Hypocrisy At The Heart Of The Call For 'Freedom Of Religion'

The latest chapter in the Israel Folau saga unfolded Tuesday in a Melbourne court, with a judge urging the footy star to settle his 'freedom of religion' dispute with Rugby Australia through mediation.

Barring that, the parties are headed for a February trial.

The media coverage has reached saturation point, months after Folau used Instagram to paraphrase a fatwa from St Paul.

To paraphrase his paraphrasing, a huge number of us are on the highway to hell. One of my favourite AC/DC songs.

israel folau instagram

Folau was sacked by the gods of Australian Rugby.

Through the Australian Christian Lobby, Folau has managed to raise a jihad chest of some $2 million from donations among believers deeply concerned about his religious freedom being compromised.

Folau’s right to declare which groups desperately need to reconsider their salvation arrangements is just the latest example of certain ultra-conservative elements from the majority Christian faith being concerned about their freedoms being compromised. This has largely been triggered by Australians overwhelmingly supporting the changing of the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.

Many opponents of SSM claimed that it would be the first slide in a slippery slope toward children being force-fed gay lifestyles. Priests, rabbis, swamis, imams and other men of the cloth would have to use sacred places to conduct religious ceremonies for same sex weddings they considered sinful.

Israel Folau's lawyers front media outside Federal court in Melbourne. If Folau and Rugby Australia can't settle their dispute through mediation, the matter is headed to trial. (Image: AAP)

During the plebiscite on that proposal, a host of uber-conservative Christian groups claimed that supporting same-sex marriage would lead to all kinds of nastiness. They were joined by allies in the media and parliament.

What I cannot understand is this: where were these believers in free speech and freedom of religion when persons of non-Christian (or not as uber-Christian) faith were being pilloried, vilified and threatened?

Is it only the right of believers in the majority faith that matters?

In 2016, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a Ramadan dinner at Kirribilli House with prominent Muslims and other folk. Among those invited was a religious leader whose alleged views on LGBTIQ people would not have been too far off those of Folau and the ACL. I say "alleged" because it turns out Sheik Shady AlSuleiman launched and then settled a defamation case against Australian tabloid newspapers that had accused him of of a host of extremist and homophobic views. Ironically, the same imam has been the subject of death threats from ISIS.

Malcolm Turnbull was criticised for holding a Ramadan dinner to which Sheik Shady AlSueiman was invited. (Image:AAP)
The same crowd criticising Turnbull for dining with a controversial imam is happy to defend Christians' freedom of religious speech. (Image:AAP)

But those criticising the former PM for dining with allegedly homophobic imams are happy to defend the right of believers from other faiths to express views offensive to many LGBTIQ people. Or even rub shoulders with them. Those individuals were rightly pilloried and questioned for their past statements. But the criticisms often came from the same circles now defending the rights of conservative Christians to make similarly ridiculous and hateful statements. I guess not all of us have the right to be bigots.

And why privilege religious beliefs?

What happens when unfashionable political beliefs are expressed? Australia is no stranger to deeply held political theology. Try talking about ANZAC Day in a certain manner. I didn’t see anyone raise money for the legal defence fund of sports journalist Scott McIntyre for his tweets claiming the ANZACs committed “summary execution, widespread rape and theft … in Egypt, Palestine and Japan”. Similar to Folau, McIntyre was sacked for breaching his employer’s code of conduct and social media policy.

Speaking of ANZAC Day, remember the saturation rage given to ABC part-time presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied over her 2017 Facebook post which she quickly took down. One prominent media pundit even said she’d be tempted to run the young woman over.

Yassmin’s enemies in media and parliament chased her in every position she held -- from a DFAT body to her part-time gig with the ABC. Just about anything she said or tweeted was reported by Newscorp publications and then aggregated by the Daily Mail.

Compare this to the mild treatment then Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace received in 2011 for his tweet.

Now religious discrimination is all the craze in some allegedly conservative circles, but it’s a concern only triggered by certain allegedly Christian attitudes toward non-heterosexual people. It is about discrimination against those wishing to discriminate against others.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison preaches about employers showing respect toward the private religious views of their employees, he isn’t talking about the rights of Sikhs to wear turbans or Muslim women to hear hijabs. He isn’t talking about vulnerable religious minorities pilloried because of what happens in the Middle East. He’s talking about Christians.

If you really want to understand the double standards behind the pseudo-conservative agenda of religious discrimination, here’s a lovely quote from Henry Ergas in The Australian:

“Religion ought to be welcome in the public square, but not when it comes to clutching a Kalashnikov and yelling ‘death to the infidels’”.

No mention of bigots of another faith.