$8 million for axed Wallaby Israel Folau
Exiled Wallaby star Israel Folau said he felt 'vindicated' after extracting an apology and an $8 million payout from Rugby Australia in a settlement which on Wednesday ended his drawn-out legal battle with the sporting body which sacked him earlier this year.
Rugby Australia apologised and was forced into an out-of-court settlement with the former Australia fullback, who was seeking $14 million compensation for his "wrongful termination" by the Aussie rugby union body over his April social media post saying hell awaits gay people.
While the amount of money has not been disclosed, it is believed that after 14 hours of mediation the payout is believed to be $8 million.
Rugby Australia apologised, saying it "acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus".
Folau also apologised in a joint statement, saying he does not condone discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and his original comment "reflected Mr Folau's genuinely held religious beliefs, and Mr Folau did not intend to harm or offend any person when he uploaded the social media post".
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Later, in a joint video statement with his wife Maria, Folau said they were "extremely pleased" with the settlement and apology.
"We have been vindicated and can now move on with our lives to focus on our faith and our family," he said.
"We started this journey on behalf of all people of faith to protect their rights of freedom of speech and religion.
"We now look forward to the federal government enacting the legislation necessary to further protect and strengthen these rights for all Australians."
Questions are now being raised about the judgment of Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle, who has presided over a year of turmoil, including the Wallabies' humiliating World Cup loss against England and the subsequent resignation of coach Michael Cheika.
In a letter to Rugby Australia stakeholders, Ms Castle said: "The terms of the settlement are confidential but importantly Israel's legal claim has been withdrawn and whilst we were very confident in our legal position, this outcome provides certainty for Rugby Australia and allows us to avoid incurring ongoing legal costs and the risks and distractions of a lengthy trial."
Free speech advocates and religious groups welcomed the outcome but also warned an "increasingly censorial culture" was making it impossible to express religious views freely and that the federal government's proposed new religious laws were not enough to protect people of faith.
The Australian Christian Lobby, which donated $100,000 to Folau for his legal fees after he was black-listed by GoFundMe, says people of faith need clear protections to speak openly about their beliefs.
"We look forward to the federal government producing reforms that prevent taxing and drawn-out legal processes like this in future," managing director Martyn Iles said.
"We trust that this sets a clear precedent for every bureaucrat, manager, or person in a position of power, that they cannot ruin someone's career because they don't like what they believe.
"It is disproportionate in the extreme to end someone's career simply because they have said something controversial."
One Nation Upper House MP Mark Latham said the case does have implications as a test case for religious freedom because "essentially Rugby Australia didn't get away with it" and also called on the NRL to lift its recently announced ban on the former Kangaroos rugby league representative.
"It's clear by having to apologise and settle, it hasn't been upheld, they didn't get away with it and that makes it an important test case, it's a win for religious freedom," he said.
"Now that Rugby Australia has apologised, the NRL must lift its ban on Folau which clearly stands as a disgraceful example of religious discrimination.
"What right does any sporting code have to control the religious beliefs and views of players well away from the workforce?
"The NRL have had people playing the game who have been guilty of domestic violence, bashing women, bashing police and drug peddlers playing the game under the banner of rehabilitation and a second chance. Well Folau deserves a first chance."
Centre for Independent Studies director of the culture, prosperity and civil social program, Peter Kurti said the case showed compromise was required and "you can't have complete freedom".
"When it comes to religion and freedom of speech in a country like ours there has to be an element of give and take," he said.