The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has stepped in to help Israel Folau in his bid to raise $3m for his legal battle against Rugby Australia after his crowdfunding page was controversially removed by GoFundMe.
Recall that Israel Folau, an Australian rugby star was recently fired for speaking out against homosexuality on social media earlier this year. Australian rugby union authorities decided to end their $4 million contract with the star center after he posted a message on Instagram urging sinners to “repent.”
The new fundraising page being hosted on the ACL website has already raised nearly $2m in less than 48 hours after it was launched, more than doubling what was raised through the original GoFundMe page.
Folau is mounting a legal challenge against Rugby Australia after his $4m contract was terminated over a picture he posted to Instagram telling gay people among others that “hell awaits” if they do not repent.
He believes his termination was unlawful and set up a crowdfunding page on GoFundMe asking people who share his values to help him cover the costs of his legal fight.
On his page, he said that the legal challenge could take years and end up in Australia’s High Court.
He added that his fight with Rugby Australia could be “very costly in terms of time, money and reputation”, but that he did “not intend to stop now”.
“I have had the honour and the privilege of representing my country on the sporting field, for which I will be forever grateful,” he said.
“I am also a Christian. My faith is the most important thing in my life. I try to live my life according to the Bible and I believe it is my duty to share the word of the Bible.
“Earlier this year, I uploaded some messages from the Bible on my Instagram page. I believe that sharing the Bible is an act of love and compassion.
“I know some people do not like or believe in the Bible. Indeed, what makes our country so wonderful is that we have such a diverse community made up of so many different cultures and values. But my faith defines me as a person. I do not believe that it is fair or right that I be punished for my religious beliefs.
“Sadly, after I uploaded the messages from the Bible, my employers, Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW, tore up my employment contract. As a result, I have lost my job, my livelihood, and the ability to play for my country. It looks like I will never be allowed to play rugby in this country again.”
He had managed to raise $750,000 before the page was removed by GoFundMe on Monday. The digital platform said that the page had breached its terms of service and that all money raised would be refunded to the donors.
“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity,” GoFundMe manager, Nicola Britton, said.
A spokesman for Folau said the decision to take down his fundraising campaign was “very disappointing”.
“Unfortunately, GoFundMe has buckled to demands against the freedom of Australians to donate to his cause,” he said. “There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination against Israel and his supporters.”
The spokesperson alleged that Folau’s website had come under”sustained cyber-attack” and that there had been a “deliberate attempt to vilify his wife Maria for supporting her husband”.
“While Israel does not intend to respond in detail at this time regarding the accusations thrown at him or his family he wants it known that these attacks have hardened his resolve,” the spokesman said.
Now the ACL has set up a new page to raise funds for Folau’s legal challenge and pledged $100,000 in support.
ACL managing director Martyn Iles said it was “right” to support Folau in this way “and it sets an important legal precedent.”
“Recently the online fundraising platform GoFundMe shut down Israel Folau’s legal defence fund and turned away hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations,” he said.
“On behalf of the Australian Christian Lobby, I have spoken to Israel Folau to let him know that ACL will be donating $100,000 to his legal defence, because it’s right and it sets an important legal precedent.
“I have also offered to host his online appeal for funds here on our website and he has accepted our offer.
“All gifts you give on this web page will be deposited into a trust account to pay for Israel Folau’s legal case.
“So, please give generously today to help Israel Folau stand for your religious freedom.”
Folau said on Twitter: “I am incredibly thankful for the Australian Christian Lobby, which has not only come to my defence in the media, but generously established a website to receive donations on my behalf.”