We at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum have frequently been critical of “establishment” or “mainstream conservatives” who are incapable of anything beyond compromise or principled-defeat. The recent controversy involving Australia’s Israel Folau, and his employer Rugby Australia, provides yet another reminder of how these champions of “freedom” will celebrate the slightest apparent win, where that win is nothing more than the maintenance of the status quo.
In brief: Israel Folau is a popular Australian footballer of Islander heritage who paraphrased a Biblical quote on social media and consequently had his career terminated by his employer, Rugby Australia. A very public dispute ensued, involving questions concerning freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the legitimacy of speech codes in private companies that bind the private behaviour of employees and contractors, the legality of contractual terms that violate certain civil rights, and the manner in which an individual can be harassed as a result of a political campaign orchestrated by malicious agitators on the fringe of politics. Neither side was willing to concede its position. Folau, as a committed evangelical Christian, refused to withdraw or apologise for his comments, which were a genuine and sincere expression of his faith – he is a pastor in his local Church when he is not playing professional sports; Rugby Australia, as a corporation fully converged with the theology of Cultural Marxism, likewise refused to back down from its decision. The issue came on the heal of Australia’s legalisation of same-sex “marriage” following the success of a voluntary postal ballot in 2017. It was also part of a succession of prominent and public individuals, such as renowned Australian tennis player Margaret Court and others, who have been targeted by the mob for their support of traditional marriage during that postal ballot.
The people and organisations that coalesced behind Folau could be broadly described as “conservative” and Christian. Those who supported the decision to terminate Folau’s career could be described euphemistically as “progressive”. Responses to this controversy were of course entirely predictable from both sides: the right raised money and attempted to lecture the public, the corporate sector and the political class on what was good and right, dispassionately appealing to reason and rationality – no spectacles however, no boycotts, no actual protests on the streets, no social activism of any kind; the left, on the other hand, while acting from a position of institutional power gained through decades of militancy, only had to rely on the ideas and values that conservatives have conceded over the last several decades to successfully prosecute its cause: radical egalitarianism, individual “freedom” and “choice” defined in the most abstract and content free way. Accordingly, the trajectory towards which this spate in the Culture War was moving was obvious: a win for social justice and a defeat for the forces of nominal opposition to the tides of history.
It was therefore somewhat surprising that a settlement was reached between both sides, as reported in the press today. It is understandable that the immediate reaction to Rugby Australia’s decision to settle was anger at giving an inch to Folau. In light of the way these matters are developing, any concession really wasn’t necessary. The response of the Christian and conservative camp was likewise unremarkable: unmitigated celebration. One wonders, however, what it is exactly that they are celebrating. The outcome is a settlement whose terms are undisclosed. Speculations are that a payment from between one to eight million dollars is to be paid to Folau. Recall that his initial claim was in the vicinity of double that amount. Given the questions raised by this controversy (freedom of speech, public religious expression, the extent and enforceability of corporate speech codes on private conduct) it should have been an objective of Folau’s backers to have these ventilated in a court of law. Instead, current outcome offers no resolution, no precedent, and in no way has it secured the civil liberties of people who fall out of favour with Acceptable Opinion. The frontlines of the Culture War have moved precisely nowhere.
Indeed, the fact that Acceptable Opinion on matters relating to sexual morality has not suffered a dent to its hegemony can only be interpreted by the right-minded as a de facto win for the ideological left. This is perhaps most evident from the statements made by Folau’s opponents. Speaking for Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle stated to the media that:
“If you look at the statement that was drafted yesterday, and there was a lot of work went into that statement by both parties, there was an apology both ways. That apology was both ways because this has been very stressful, it’s been a very hard time for the Folaus and it’s a very hard time for Rugby Australia. At the end of the day it was about that difficult time that Rugby Australia apologised for, but we stand by our decision that we have been through.”
It may be true that Folau’s persecutors did not get their way (entirely) this time, but not every traditionalist or Christian (or anyone who dissents from the uncompromising conformity of the times) has the profile and popularity of a Folau. For every celebrity, there is a legion of private individuals who will not have the same media platform or support network from which to broadcast their persecution and call for help. The settlement between Folau – who will nevertheless never again play professional football – and Rugby Australia has not provided the Conservative Movement with any tool, weapon or device that can be used to defend (let along prosecute) its cause in the future. In fact, whatever resources were obtained by lobby groups in support of Folau are now to be dissipated: Martin Iles of the Australian Christian Lobby has indicated that funds raised for the footballer’s defence will be returned to donors instead of reinvested in the defence of public Christianity, or others who find themselves in a Folau-like predicament. When asked what would be done with the two million dollars that ACL has collected from its members and supporters, Iles replied:
“Donors who gave to the Folau campaign will be contacted in due course and are entitled to refunds on a pro-rata basis, in accordance with our original commitment”
Is this how Planned Parenthood campaign in the US? Is this the modus operandi of Emily’s List here in Australia? Is this how secular pressure groups and far left agitators deal with surplus funds? Is the ACL not familiar with a cy-près scheme? Could not the ACL have the foresight that collected funds, when not entirely exhausted, might be dedicated to related projects or initiatives? Did they not consider these options and eventualities when they were making their “original commitment”? Is there no other high profile Christian in need to legal defence? Have the ACL forgotten about Bernard Gaynor? If anyone on the conservative side of these controversies is still wondering why they keep losing every battle in the Culture War, let them just take one look at these soldiers who are mailing their bullets back to the factory after one battle while the war continues to rage.
The NSW state Parliament has had a bill on notice for almost two years now specifically designed to guarantee religious and speech freedoms, but the government – the Liberal National government, no less – refuses to allow it to even be debated. Another bill introduced by the Federal Parliament essentially protects religious speech, but only if it’s uncontroversial, thus defeating the very objective and purpose of the legislation. Readers need not be reminded that federally the Liberal National Coalition is likewise in government, with a self-described Christian Prime Minister at the helm – and so what? Is this as good as it gets? Meanwhile, nothing is being done by those forces on the organised Conservative movement or Christian lobby to actually push back and effectively reclaim lost ground. In this context, celebrating the Folau settlement as a “win” for traditionalists is nothing short of delusional.
Movements imply motion. But here the Conservative movement has not budged an inch in any direction that could be described as beneficial to the forces of cultural reaction. We’re all painfully familiar with why it’s called the “Stupid Party”… if today’s news is enough for them to celebrate a “win” such as this, perhaps now we should get used to a new term, the Stupid Movement.