Australia considering religious freedom bill after Israel Folau's firing over 'Hell' post

Australian rugby player Israel Folau. | Instagram

Australia is considering new religious freedom legislation following the firing of Christian rugby star Israel Folau over his Instagram posts about Hell. 

Folau's multimillion dollar contract was terminated earlier this year after a brouhaha erupted over his post on Instagram about who is condemned: "Hell awaits" for "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters" which is a portion of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

He added: "Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him." 

The posting was considered to be in breach of the Professional Players' Code of Conduct and Folau was dismissed.

The proposed bill would allow Australians to express their faith outside of the workplace, provided there is no financial damage toward their employer, according to Reuters.

“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race and disability,” Australia's Attorney General Christian Porter said during a speech in Sydney.

“This draft bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief, or lack thereof,” Porter added. 

The bill sets forth criteria on limiting private religious expression. Businesses with a turnover of more than $50 million would be prohibited from enforcing limitations on a person's religious expression in private, unless that company can somehow show it would cause "unjustifiable financial hardship to the business." Such a business would have to prove those limitations on their freedom of speech was necessary to avoid hardship, so they cannot be considered nondiscriminatory to an employee.

Religious expressions that are malicious or incite hatred would not be protected under the new law.

“The situation is seen as urgent by many and it has been deferred,” said Michael Kellahan, the executive director of Freedom for Faith, a Christian legal think-tank.

“It would have been nice to have some leadership on this.”

LBGT advocates say the proposed reforms would grant greater power to religious groups and encourage discrimination.

“These new, radical provisions go too far and hand a sword to people of faith to use their religious beliefs to attack others in our community,” Anna Brown, chief executive of Equality Australia, said.

The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, is an evangelical Christian.

In response to his firing, Folau initiated an unfair dismissal case against Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs club. Unless a settlement is reached before February 2020, the matter will head to trial.

"Rugby Australia tore up my employment contract and ended my playing career for sharing a message from the Bible," Folau said in July.

"I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or exclusion. Australia is such an amazing multi-cultural country. I know we are strong enough to tolerate different views without firing people from their jobs for expressing religious beliefs that not everybody agrees with."

The religious freedom bill is likely to be formally introduced into parliament in October.

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