Israel Folau reaches settlement with Rugby Australia over 'hell awaits' Instagram post

Israel Folau(Photo: Reuters)

Rugby Australia (RA), NSW Rugby and Israel Folau have reached a settlement following a dispute over a religious message he posted to social media.

Folau, a staunch Christian, commenced legal proceedings against Rugby Australia after he was dropped by the official body for posting an image to Instagram that said "hell awaits" gay people among others unless they repent. 

The 30-year-old former Wallabies star had been seeking A$14m (£7.4m; $9.5m) for religious discrimination after his contract was terminated in May.

In a joint statement, RA, NSW Rugby and Folau said that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential. 

"The social media post 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," the statement reads.

"Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he does not condone discrimination of any kind against any person on the grounds of their sexuality and that he shares Rugby Australia's commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

"Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby do not in any way agree with the content of the social media post. Inclusiveness is one of Rugby's core values and it welcomes all people to the game, including all members of the LGBTI community.

"While it was not Rugby Australia's intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus. Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused."

The statement did not disclose whether Folau would return to professional rugby.

The social media post sparked a huge backlash from the LGBT community, but Folau retained broad support from Christians alarmed about the implications for free speech and religious freedom. 

A fundraising campaign by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) raised over $2m towards Folau's legal fight after a previous fundraiser was pulled by GoFundMe

ACL's campaign was paused less than 48 hours after launching due to the volume of donations.  The organisation said that donations had come in from tens of thousands of Australians. 

ACL managing director Martyn Iles has called on the Australian government to protect free speech.

"People of all faiths need clear protections to speak openly about their beliefs. It is wrong for them to be silenced by the fear of litigation or lawsuits by activists," he said. 

"The true meaning of inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance is to accept differences, including differences of faith and belief.

"Rugby Australia was nothing but exclusive and intolerant of Israel Folau's Christian beliefs, something acknowledged in part by their joint statement with Israel Folau today."