Israel Folau
Israel Folau leaves a conciliation hearing at the Fair Work Commission in Sydney. (Image: AAP/Peter Rae)

How’s that Israel Folau religious freedom culture war going? Ha, terribly wonderfully, just terribly wonderfully. The right is in open civil war about the competing claims of the Folau case, and it’s now being fought out in the pages of The Australian.

In the latest thrilling installment, Israel’s cousin Josiah, part of the same extreme Pentecostalist sect as Israel, has been sacked from working at a Catholic school apparently because of his beliefs. What, sectarian warfare against a Christian with a different emphasis? Er, no, it’s because Josiah believes that Catholicism is a manifestation of Satan, and Catholicism is “masked devil worship”. Well, yeah, that would make things a little more difficult than a drama teacher with a shelf of Judy Garland albums.

The Folau case was always difficult for the right, because any victory by Folau over his right to publicly list those going to hell — everyone except members of the specific sub-sub sect centred on the Folau clan — would hugely weaken employment law, establishing employer demands concerning employees free speech activities as unconscionable. Conversely, upholding Rugby Australia’s right to sack Folau would give firmer definition of what crossed the line from religious opinion into hate speech.

The right seems to have not thought this through at all, when they dived into the Folau-Rugby Australia dispute. There is a “Folau War”, but it’s a civil war on the right, between free marketeers and cultural conservatives.

Now, it’s got complicated for the latter as well. Alan Jones says that the Folau crisis has “deepened”. Not for us, Parrot. Just for you. Especially so since Josiah Folau is reported to have called the Catholic church a “synagogue of Satan”. This makes clear something that’s always been a hidden feature of the issue: that many Pentecostal Christians believe Jewish people to be damned to hell unless they repent. The more extreme the Pentecostalism, the more inflexible the view on Jewish people is. At its outer edge — and the Folau church seems to be there — such sects regard Jews as predestined; in the apocalypse half will convert and be saved, half damned to hell. The expression “synagogue of Satan”, demonstrates the odium in which such strands of Pentecostalism hold Judaism; it’s a term of abuse.

Israel Folau didn’t use any such language in his own proselytising it should be noted; the mention of “idolators” going to hell covers not only non-Christians, not even only non-Protestants, but also those Protestants who vary from Folau’s specific beliefs. The “synagogue of Satan” reference is so sizzling that it was left out of Brad Norington’s coverage in The Australian — either by Norington himself, or excised by subs conscious of the pro- and anti-Folau factions in the Oz.

Mind you, the “pro-” faction was really a pro-“religious freedom law” push, with the notion of a religious cultural crisis being driven in the Oz, by Paul and Joe Kelly, father and son (with Alan Jones as holy ghost). Alas! They’re cultural Catholics who don’t seem to have imagined they would be cast into the same pit with the fornicators, sodomites and “idolators”.

What would be really great is to see the religious freedom bill get up, and for a Catholic school to have to defend its right not to employ a Christian who thinks its students are the spawn of Satan. But I suspect that that bill just got consigned to the pit too. Along with the right’s hopes for a neat little religious culture war.

How do think the Israel Folau court case will end? Write to [email protected] with your thoughts and your full name.

Peter Fray

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