Israel Folau case can be 'a legal minefield'
A push to sack Israel Folau over his anti-gay comments could pose problems for Rugby Australia and its boss Raelene Castle, with expensive consequences at stake for both sides.
The devoutly Christian player has opted to challenge a decision to terminate his multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs over homophobic social media posts.
Rugby Australia contends Folau, 30, committed a "high-level" breach of the players' code of conduct by failing to adhere to its policies and values, but freedom of speech and religious freedom issues could form part of his defence.
The row will go to an independent three-person tribunal which will determine whether he has made a breach and, if so, what punishment is appropriate - ranging from a fine to a suspension or being fired. No date has yet been set.
It may not end there, say experts, with an appeal possible afterwards and the prospect of protracted and costly court hearings. Former NSW Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy said the case was a legal and moral minefield.
"The topics of religious discrimination, discrimination against gay people and the right of employees to express personal opinions on social media raise complicated and uncertain issues," he wrote in an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.
He said the position of Folau, who asserted on his Instagram account that "Hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters", was complex.
"Clearly he speaks from a genuine and deeply held religious conviction," he said. "He is otherwise a person of exemplary character and his opinions, while plainly offensive to some, are more or less consistent with a point of view not uncommonly expressed in churches and mosques around Australia."
On the other hand, it will be argued that Folau is in breach of his employment contract, or at least Rugby Australia's code of conduct.