BLOG: Religious Freedom, Freer than the Rest

It seems that every time I open my laptop there’s another take on Israel Folau.

“Who?” you ask, and I forgive you, because it’s an Australian story, and not all of you live in Australia.

For those of you not in the know, Israel Folau is a professional rugby union player whose 2019 contract was terminated after expressing negative comments toward same-sex attracted and gender variant communities.

Folau, in typical fashion, has taken the matter up with the Fair Work Commission, claiming that he was discriminated against on the basis of his religion.

Let’s tease that apart, shall we? Because the story is in the telling.

“What? You can’t fire me! I was only repeating what God said. You can’t hold me responsible for what God says! And you can’t hold God responsible because, well… God is God!”
– Not a quote from Israel Folau, but may as well be.

Paints a very different picture, doesn’t it?

The range of ‘strongly held beliefs’ deemed worthy of defense under the religious umbrella are myriad, from “they should keep it behind closed doors” to “they’re all rapists and child molesters.”

I remember vividly on one of those long, monotonous drives to my father’s house on the weekend, his remarking upon how the only thing to celebrate at the (Sydney Gay and Lesbian) Mardi Gras would be a bomb going off, killing as many attendees as possible.

“The worst thing Peter Beattie ever did was to make it legal to be a poof,” he said, remarking on the then-premier’s political history supporting the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Australian state of Queensland in 1990. (Whether Beattie played any pivotal role in the amendment is anyone’s guess.)

These were the ‘deeply held beliefs’ of my religious father, a man who also claims to have a deeper reason to hate homosexuals than the word of God. I doubt he ever imagined that I would grow up to be queer myself, let alone a woman, sharing a private thought echoing comment section trolls in an age before the internet.

Regardless, it’s that hostility that has often led me to wonder whether God hates queers, or whether it’s convenient to project the hatred of queers onto God.

The fact that there are Christian denominations who preach kindness to, and even embrace or are comprised of LGBTQIA+ people leads me to believe that it’s possible to tease faith and discrimination apart, or even dismiss discrimination entirely.

When a figure like Folau gets behind a pulpit and makes statements such as ‘affirming a transgender child’s identity is tantamount to abuse’, and accredits that statement to God, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, I think of my father, the very epitome of a man who doesn’t want to know better; a man who by wielding society’s assumed regard for a God not all of us share or believe in, has the ability to evade responsibility for his words and the harm they cause.

It also makes me wonder what Folau says when nobody is listening, and whether those words are also holy.

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