Are you worried about people losing their jobs because of what they believe and say about it? Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as it’s only Christians who lose their jobs after expressing their beliefs. Last month we saw the Australian rugby player Israel Folau sacked because he would not retract a social media post which was deemed ‘homophobic’. Shortly afterwards, we had an English school assistant sacked for a similar ‘transgression’. I should add here that I think both of these could have used a bit more common sense in the way they proclaimed their messages, but even so, the ultimate argument here is that of freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief. These freedoms are under attack if you are a Christian and have the nerve to say as you see it.
‘Diversity and inclusivity’. Sounds good, right? But what it really means is ‘anyone not agreeing with us is out’. Doesn’t ‘diversity’ mean difference? Doesn’t ‘inclusivity’ mean ‘live and let live so we all exist together with mutual tolerance of our differences’? Apparently not. Don’t those two words just fill you with joy?
Kristie Higgs, 43, was a pastoral assistant (what is that?) at a Gloucestershire academy (secondary) school, but a disciplinary panel there has decided that she had used language which demeaned its gay, lesbian and transgender pupils. Her crime? Posting items on her personal Facebook page about her views on the teaching of ‘relationships’ in schools according to the progressive agenda. Oh yes, and she asked her friends, on the same page, to sign a petition about the government’s consultation (which was then open) on the topic. In the post, she herself said that freedom of belief and freedom of speech were under attack, with the latter only available to those who ‘toe the party line’.
One person objected to the school about the posts and Ms Higgs was called before a disciplinary panel. And the disciplinary panel? The wise owls sitting on it decided that she was guilty of gross misconduct because her posts had the potential to harm the school’s reputation – despite there being no evidence of harm having been caused to the school’s reputation. One wonders how the panel members feel now about the reputation of the school.
Ms Higgs said, “As soon as the investigation began I was repeatedly told ‘This is nothing to do with your religion’. That was clearly a legal tactic and of course it has everything to do with my religion.” She is now taking her case to an employment tribunal.
Israel Falou – a superstar rugby player – was investigated by Rugby Australia’s ‘integrity unit’ (no irony there – apparently rugby is only inclusive if you don’t hold conservative Christian values) after he posted on Instagram an item that proclaimed that hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. Let’s face it, this was not the wisest of moves for a sportsman who was already on a warning about previous expressions of his beliefs. But, he is entitled to his beliefs. Part of his practice as a Christian, led by the nature of belief in his church (shared by many around the world) is that one of the most important roles for a Christian to take on is that of warning people about the consequences of their actions in this life. Now you may disagree with his views, but he holds them sincerely. In his view, telling others how to make themselves right with God is his main role in life. He has made it clear that he is prepared to give up his rugby career if he has to because of this.
Guess which group of the ‘accused’ in his tweet complained? The adulterers? The liars? The thieves? Nope. Now why may that be? Could it be that most adulterers, liars, thieves and the rest do not actually feel threatened by Folau’s post on Instagram? After all, if you don’t believe what he is saying, why are you worried? Isn’t he talking religious rubbish? But no – if you are a member of the homosexual community you can immediately appeal to the homophobic argument and be guaranteed an audience for your complaint.
Rugby Australia said “[The post made by Folau] does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the rugby community”. Right. So rugby players can now only play professionally if they believe the ‘right’ things. What are the values of the sport? Rugby Australia says they are Passion, Integrity, Discipline, Respect and Teamwork. Apparently you only get respect in rugby if, as Kriste Higgs said in the UK on her FB page, you toe the party line.
Kirsty Clarke, director of sport at Stonewall said “Folau’s comments are just one example of how much work is still left to do to combat discrimination and the use of hateful language against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.” Ok – so now the expression of a religious view is hate language. I wonder if this applies to the expression of beliefs from all religions.
Nick Heath, a gay rugby commentator, warned that Folau’s comments could “cause harm to hundreds of thousands of people.” How, exactly? If by ‘harm’ Nick means ‘feeling upset that anther person doesn’t agree with me’, then let’s just legislate now against anyone disagreeing with anyone else, anywhere, any time and over anything. Wait – no – that’s the totalitarian state, isn’t it? Care to speak to anyone who has lived their life under communism or fascism in the 20th century? No? Your form of equality, diversity and inclusion Nick, is nothing like the state-regulated control of thought and belief of the past, is it? Can you tell me please how it is ‘better’?
Think about this for a minute. Can Israel Folau actually put people in hell himself? No? Does he believe what he has written about? Yes. So all this fuss is about what Folau believes and says he believes. Not what he does ‘against’ homosexuals, adulterers, thieves and the rest. He has expressed an opinion. He has not, as far as we know, actually committed a crime by assaulting anyone or inciting violence against anyone because of their sexual orientation.
‘Oh but he has! His words will make people attack homosexuals!’
Really? Got proof of that, have you? Are his words also likely to provoke attacks on adulterers and thieves? No? Are we supposed to believe that the position of LGBT people today is worse than it was 23, 30, 40+ years ago? Really?
How have we reached a point where we assume that some people are bound to go out attacking minorities just because a famous person believes something and says what he believes? Where does critical thinking come into this? If you don’t believe Folau’s version of religion is correct, what are you bothered about? Anyone attacking others has made their own decision – a choice – to commit a crime. They don’t need to be influenced by famous people.
Of course, there is also a financial aspect to all of this. If the rugby authorities were a bit more honest, I would have some sympathy for them. This is, in reality, probably more about money than it is about religious beliefs. Folau’s club, the Wallabies, were apparently told by their biggest sponsors, Qantas and Asics, that they may stop their funding over Folau’s earlier ‘homophobic’ comments. So it seems that rugby’s financing may take preference over the religious beliefs of their players. Why can’t the rugby authorities just say to Folau ‘We don’t want to lose our sponsorship so stop expressing your views’? Isn’t that more honest?
Does this sensitivity to the moral positions of players affect those of other religions as well as Christian players? Care to guess? Last year, a Muslim rugby player from New Zealand, Sonny Bill Williams, was taking part in a charity boxing match. Williams, who plays for the All Blacks, complained about the presence of ‘ring girls’ in bikinis at a promotional event for the match. “I don’t think it was necessary to bring them here,” Williams said.
Guess what? The girls were ‘asked’ to leave. That’s ok then. Women’s rights take second place to the opinions and feelings of a Muslim sportsman. Women who were legitimately present, presumably under employment law, were ‘asked’ to leave the place where they were working because a man did not think they needed to be there due to his religious beliefs. Did anyone complain?
On an earlier occasion, Williams had been told by the rugby authorities that he did not have to wear his team jersey which was emblazoned with adverts for various sponsors including banks, alcohol and gambling brands, because he disagreed with aspects of their businesses on religious grounds. This dispensation was granted by New Zealand Rugby “on the basis of genuine family, ethical or religious grounds”.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew admitted that this was a ‘tricky situation’ but said that NZR allowed players to make a moral stand, but approached such complex issues on a case-by-case basis.
“They’re all tricky because our commercial partners, with a lot of good faith, come in to support the game,” he said, while acknowledging criticism that sponsors deserved better treatment because their money was paying the players’ wages. “There is that element, isn’t there? So that’s why we don’t draw a blanket line anywhere,” he said. “We’ve got to sit down and work it through because different people have a different view of different things … it’s a judgement call.”
Yes, it is. A call that seems to allow leeway only to members of certain favoured groups. Why is this?
What do these and the majority of comments against the views expressed by some Christians have in common? The authors or speakers cannot tell the difference between expressing a view and acting on it. They automatically assume that a criticism of an ideology is the same as an attack on a person. It’s not.
One may disagree with the way in which Kristie Higgs and Israel Folau went about expressing their views. I certainly think they could have made their points in a more sensitive way. But, the fact remains that they are entitled to express their religious beliefs. In the UK religious belief is protected under the Equality Act (2010) although it often appears that only certain religions are protected in practice. Much has been made in the media in recent years about the ‘right not to be offended’. Comedians, for example – always of the left-wing persuasion – have been very vocal in their complaints about their right to cause offence. Where are the people complaining about their ‘hate speech’? So it’s legitimate to cause offence in the name of comedy but not in the name of religion?
This whole situation with school staff and rugby players puts me in mind of a comment made by Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird. In 1966, the Hanover County School Board in Virginia decided to remove all copies of her famous novel from its shelves because it was deemed ‘immoral’. Ms Lee wrote to them: “Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners.” In the envelope, she enclosed “a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.”
Hear, hear. Let’s add to that all the ‘authorities’ who excuse anyone’s religious beliefs but those of Christians. Perhaps if we have a whip-round we may be able to enrol them in some sort of inclusivity and diversity awareness training.