Folau a crackpot on the fringes of society
Israel Folau is not a passionate campaigner for the freedom of religion but a crackpot on the fringes of society.
Australia has a popular Pentecostal Prime Minister and a broad range of religious views are accepted here.
But Folau has jumped the shark with his suggestion that drought and bushfires are God's punishment for the legalisation of abortion and same-sex marriage.
"They have changed that law and legalised same-sex marriage and now those things are OK in society, going against the laws of what God says. Abortion - it is OK now to murder and kill infants, unborn children and they think that to be OK," Folau said in a sermon last weekend.
"Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, all these things have come in a short period of time. You think it is a coincidence or not?"
Folau insists his gospel beliefs are a "message of love". But I'll bet the families of the six people who died in the recent bushfires, and the hundreds of people who lost their homes, aren't feeling the love. Neither are the thousands of people evacuated from fire-ravaged areas and the firefighters putting their lives on the line to protect others.
Until now there's been an acceptance of Folau's right to express extreme religious views.
He received a hero's welcome at the Australian Christian Lobby's recent conference and the right-wing group helped him raise $2 million for his legal defence against his sacking by Rugby Australia.
Those Christians who gave Folau a standing ovation at their recent #notashamed conference should now be ashamed for giving him such a platform.
However, it seems sympathy for Folau is evaporating rapidly as he expands the category of sinners who deserve to be punished by God.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is right to say Folau's recent comments are "appallingly insensitive" and do not reflect the religious community. But he stopped short of condemning Folau's right to make them. He can't have it both ways.
It seems extraordinary Morrison won't admit the role of climate change in increasing the risk of drought and bushfire, but he will support a bill cementing Folau's right to make offensive, divisive statements like this.
He's not the only Christian taking this approach.
Anglican minister Peter Kurti says Folau was wrong because "Parliament House in Macquarie St and the Parliament House in Canberra that should have been the target of God's wrath - not the mid-north coast and south Queensland," he told Sky News. "If God was angry, God's aim was off."
But Kurti insists on Folau's right to preach such views to his congregation "even though we can think the views he expresses are completely wrong and offensive".
A recent Instagram post by Folau himself reflects this position: "You might not agree with me, but thank you for your support," it says.
That support must now end. Israel Folau's bigoted and destructive views mean he does not deserve such indulgence and protection.
No longer can Christians or even free speech campaigners defend Folau's right to dispense such hurtful tripe.
It's telling that one of his biggest supporters, outspoken NSW radio host Alan Jones on Monday: "Israel is a lovely human being, I know him well. Israel, button up. Button up. These comments don't help."
Folau says homosexuals and other sinners will go to hell unless they repent, but he's showing no signs of repenting himself. In fact, he's starting to ramp it up.
Not only is the Instagram post expressing those views still up, but he's been also claiming the devil is to blame for transgender children.
Let's stop insisting Folau is entitled to his views in the name of religious freedom. This sort of bigoted, divisive hate speech is well outside the religious mainstream.
Folau's right to religious freedom should not trump the right of others to be free from hate speech.
He's not just saying he doesn't agree with homosexuality or abortion or same-sex marriage.
He's saying gay people will go to hell and deadly natural disasters are people's punishment for being gay and terminating pregnancies. There's a big difference.
The same principle applies to former tennis player Margaret Court, whose recognition in the sporting world has been rightly dimmed by her views about homosexuality.
Court doesn't just say people shouldn't be gay and get married, but that being gay is wrong. She's also said gay and gender diverse children are brainwashed by the devil and Christian men don't want other men to be gay because it will "destroy their lives".
Such retrograde and outdated views of homosexuality are very harmful.
Folau's recent comments will make Rugby Australia's sacking of him more defensible. Rugby CEO Raelene Castle says she initially supported him as a "proud Christian man" but there is nothing Christian about his views.
Freedom of religion is one thing, but there can be no freedom from the consequences of such views.
I'll give Folau the last word. In September last year he posted on Instagram: "Be brave enough to follow Jesus even if it means losing your reputation with the world".
Folau will need to be brave, because he has certainly lost his reputation for good.
Susie O'Brien is a Herald Sun columnist.