Passing Bull 147 – Bull about freedom and religion


Israel Folau is a champion footballer.  He has played in three codes.  He has a Pacific Island background.  He also has Christian views of a fundamentalist kind.  He is, I think, a Mormon.  When asked on social media what were God’s plans for gays, Israel said that unless they repent their sins, their plan is hell.

Many people cannot tolerate the idea of a God who could subject people to eternal agony.  That happens to be my view.  Hell is simply not negotiable for me.  And it only gets worse if people say you might be blasted in eternal fires if you are born to people of the wrong faith or if you are gay.

It is one thing to say that being gay is a sin; it is another thing to say that you must go to hell for that sin – unless you repent, and do so according to the rites of the right faith.  For many people – including me – that proposition is a double dose of religious intolerance and cruelty.  It is a reminder of the savage dogma that saw people burnt at the stake, and which gives religion generally a bad name.  Rightly or wrongly, many people would strongly resent these views of Israel Folau.  His position could only cement their views on the dangers of religious intolerance.

Those running rugby here were put in a terrible position.  They cannot be seen to discriminate against any minority on a ground such as this.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for business to remain morally neutral.  The provisions in the contracts of most professional sports people will bear on their capacity to earn their livelihood if they are found to have acted in a way that brings their sport into disrepute.  For one footballer to discriminate publicly against another on the ground of race, religion or sexuality is, in Australia in 2018, likely to be found to have just that effect.  I am not aware of any law that trenches upon the freedom of parties to contract in those terms.  It follows that, depending on the terms of his contract, Israel may be found to have acted in breach of that contract, and therefore unlawfully, by saying what he did, and in denigrating gay people by so doing.  No sane person wants to go to hell.

It does not help that the CEO of the game’s major sponsor here is gay.  Nor does it help that the religious fervour of Israel apparently precludes him from backing down on public utterances on this subject.  The administrators are not seeking to compel Israel to do something against his faith – by, say, playing sport or earning a living on the Sabbath.  All they ask is that he freely abstains from a course of conduct that no one says is mandatory.  It escapes me how his faith could forbid him to elect to follow that course.  Is he not a free man?  Or is he saddled with all the lack of tact and savoir faire of a black, male Cordelia?

This kind of scrum is blood to a tiger for some on Sky or the Murdoch press.  They say that Israel’s freedom of speech is in issue.  That is silly.  No one is suggesting that Israel broke any law having the sanction of the general law.  But neither can anyone suggest that in speaking publicly on a matter of controversy, Israel should be free of the moral, social or political consequence of his actions.  I may or may not be legally free to say that Hitler didn’t go far enough with the Jews, or that Mormons are either fakes or dupes, or that Pacific Islanders are dangerous religious bigots, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to face the other consequences that flow from my choice of words and my decision to speak out.  Freedom of speech in this context means my right to say what I like without having to face the sanction of the general law.  It does not give me any immunity from consequences that are not imposed by the operation of the law.

Here are some extracts from Jennifer Oriel in The Australian, 23 April 2018, under the heading ‘Freedom of Speech Supports Israel Folau’s Love of God.’

Israel Folau is a Christian — not the PC kind. He is the embodiment of modern Christianity; young, black and evangelical. The furore over Folau’s decision to cite the Bible in response to a question about God reveals the unreasonable nature of Australian secularism. It raises the question of whether religious freedom is valued or even understood as a substantive right.

Does faith have a future in Australian life, or will Christians be resigned to the closet?

There is no freedom of religion unless there is freedom to exercise it.  The question put to Folau on Instagram was explicitly religious and demanded an answer from Biblical scripture….

Folau has been subjected to abuse, slander and threats of unemployment for paraphrasing scripture, despite the fact he was asked about it.

Some journalists have suggested that sponsors withdraw funding to punish his dissent. ….Others have emphasised a golden opportunity for Rugby Australia to enact vengeance; Folau’s contract is up for renewal. The most curious opinion is that Folau should not profess Christian beliefs on social media even when asked about Christian beliefs on social media.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, former rugby player Tim Horan offered support for Folau’s freedom of speech, but ‘not on social media’. Instead, he contended that such views are better confined to a backyard barbecue because: ‘You are paid for by Rugby Australia … via sponsors and I think you have an obligation to those sponsors.’  It is a flawed argument. The basis of free speech as a right and principle of Western civilisation is the exercise of speech to empower the flourishing of public reason…..

But some sponsors jumped on the PC bandwagon to condemn Folau. The worst of them hid behind a shield of anonymity while attacking him in the press — a coward’s punch…..

Criticisms of Folau as prejudiced or too outspoken fail the test of reason. He didn’t stop play and shout out ‘hell to gays’ in the middle of a match. He responded to an explicit question about the word of God on the question of homosexuality. And he responded by referring to the Bible. If you ask what God’s plan is, be prepared for the answer…..

Those who oppose Folau’s right to cite scripture are advocating censorship of the Bible.

It’s not quite as dramatic as book burning, but the principle is the same.

You might not believe in the Bible. You might not believe in God. …..Ask yourself whether the history of state atheism enforced by totalitarian regimes is the future you want for Australia.

I have dealt with the freedom of speech point.  Israel was free to speak as he did.  Others, including unhappy sponsors and administrators, were free to respond as they did.  The references to censorship and book burning are almost obligatory for people who share Ms Oriel’s views, and they are downright silly.  Mr Horan’s view looks very reasonable – no one is asking Israel to go against or even to forego his faith.  They merely ask that he abstain from any public expression of dogma – that is very far from being shared across the spectrum of Christianity – in a way that will bring difficulty and possible financial loss to those who pay his very, very large salary.  The dispute has nothing to do with ‘empowering the flourishing of public reason.’  The final sentence could most politely be described as hysterical.

There are two other points.  Ms Oriel suggests – she mentions it four times – that it is significant that Israel expressed his views in answer to a question.  On no view did Israel have to say anything.  What difference does it make if I praise Hitler in the course of my own discussion or in response to a question?  If I may refer to Scripture, when I was a child, I spoke like a child, but if ever I said that I had acted in response to what someone had said to me, the answer of my mum was : ‘If they had suggested that you put your head in the oven, would you have done that?’

Would it make any difference if I advocated Sharia Law, or said that it was ordained by Allah, in the course of a dissertation or in response to a question?  Would Ms Oriel’s commitment to freedom of speech and religion commit her to defending a Muslim whose views are as fundamentalist, and provocative, as those of Israel?  It is a simple non sequitur to argue that those who object to Israel’s views are trying to impede his religious freedom.  They are objecting to his seeking to ram his dogma down their throats, and as far as I know they may do so on the footing that his conduct may damage the social fabric, just as it may cause others commercial harm.  When Ms Oriel refers to ‘the unreasonable nature of Australian secularism’, she may be forgetting how much of her time is absorbed in blacking Islam and those who choose to follow that faith.  In the 50’s, people of Ms Oriel’s ilk found a Red under every bed.  Now, it’s a jihadi.  How can this sectarian loathing do anyone any good?

Finally, there is the mandatory reference to PC.  If being PC means being reluctant to show your love of God by smearing those who have a different view to you about religion or sexuality, then the more we see of it, the better we will be.  Even God may come out of it all smelling better.


At roughly the same time, Mr Hannity, on his radio show, said it was strange to see his name appearing on Fox News and wondered aloud if he should release a statement.

Just before 4 p.m., he posted a message on Twitter: ‘Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.’

In a follow-up tweet, Mr Hannity added, ‘I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.’

New York Times, 17 April, 2018

The phrase ‘I never retained him’ is a legal conclusion, but if it is right, Mr Cohen has claimed a privilege that is not there.


Morrison said Friday’s announcement on penalties ‘had a very long gestational period’ dating back to the financial services inquiry in the first term of government.

‘The fact that we can stand before you today and announce the outcome of this long period of work demonstrates that we have been working on this for a very long period of time, and working sequentially through the issues that need to be addressed,’ the treasurer said.

‘We have not moved into any area here lightly.’

He suggested the government had resisted calls for the royal commission before establishing one last year on the same rationale. ‘You must act carefully in this area.’

The Guardian, 23 April, 2018

In some circles the word ‘sorry’ does not exist.  Just more bullshit.

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