The former Wallabies player Israel Folau has said the controversial social media posts that led to his sacking were “substantially unrelated” to rugby, and the termination of his contract was against the public interest for employees to be able to express religious beliefs in their own time.
Folau had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia in May over an Instagram post in which he claimed gay people, among others, were destined for hell.
Rugby Australia deemed the post constituted a high level breach of his contract and Folau lost his $4m, four-year contract and several sponsorship deals. The sports star has taken Rugby Australia to court seeking $10m in damages, an apology and reinstatement from RA and his former club the NSW Waratahs.
In a statement of claim filed with the federal circuit court this week, Folau’s lawyers defended the posts, stating that since Folau became a born-again Christian in December 2017 his social media posts had almost exclusively been related to “content that he believes to be the word of God” because Folau believes he has a mission and duty to spread the word of God.
Folau argues the posts were done on his own time and not in the workplace, and were substantively unrelated to rugby union since he became born-again.
The statement of claim also said Folau previously said he was not homophobic or bigoted, and did not have a problem with gay people, going as far as to mention he appeared on the front page of the Star Observer, Australia’s longest-running LGBTI publication, and supported the gay rugby union competition, the Bingham Cup.
“He believed it was a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others,” the statement of claim states.
Folau argues it is against the public interest for a condition of employment in a contract to prohibit an employee from, in their own time, imparting or sharing religious information, provided what they are doing is within the law.
Folau has also argued the contract termination represented an “unreasonable” restraint of trade because he cannot play rugby at an international level or for an Australian team in the Super Rugby.
The federal circuit court encouraged Folau and Rugby Australia to settle the matter through mediation until December. If mediation fails, then the case will be heard over three to five days in early February 2020.