More than 2500 Australians are backing former rugby star and committed Christian Israel Folau ahead of his legal fight against Rugby Australia in what could be a landmark test of religious freedoms.
The sportman's $4 million Rugby Australia (RA) contract was terminated in May after a post he made on social media citing the Bible was deemed homophobic. It followed a similar incident last year.
Folau uploaded an image to Instagram which stated drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters would all be going to hell.
Now, a GoFundMe page set-up earlier this week to raise funds for legal costs in his bid for reinstatement has accrued more than $250,000 in pledges.
While it's a long way from Folau's goal to raise a total of $3 million, donations spiked sharply on Friday morning from around $350 after midnight.
"I believe that sharing the Bible is an act of love and compassion," he said on GoFundMe.
"I do not believe that it is fair or right that I be punished for my religious beliefs."
'I do not intend to stop now'
Asked on Sydney radio 2GB if RA had a social media clause in his contract that would have prohibited him from speaking about his faith, Folau said "no, absolutely not".
After the first incident in 2018, Folau said he was counselled by RA that while he could share his religious beliefs, he should "do it in a more respectful way".
Falou said he believes he has done that.
"I'm always about sharing that from a place of love and believing in the Bible that people ... have the opportunity to hear that, so they do repent if they choose to and turn away from (sin) and have an opportunity to be in heaven one day," he told 2GB.
The former Wallaby says he and wife Maria, an international netball player, have already spent more than $100,000 of their own money dealing with RA's internal tribunal processes.
"I believe the termination of my contract is unlawful, which is why I have started legal proceedings against Rugby Australia and Rugby NSW," Folau said on the website.
"In response, Rugby Australia have already said that they will 'divert significant resources' to fight me in court.
"Even if I win, Rugby Australia can appeal. There is every chance that a prominent test case like this could take years and eventually end up in the High Court of Australia."
The GoFundMe page had raised $174,000 in donations from more than 1850 people as at 10.30am AEST. Most of the individual donations were around $50. But some people had tipped in $500 and $200 each.
"I know I am putting myself on the line - this action will be very costly in terms of time, money and reputation - but I do not intend to stop now," Folau said on GoFundMe.
"I have the fight of my life on my hands and every little bit will help."
'Christians are not God's moral police'
Meanwhile, an Auckland parish minister from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has spoken out against Folau quoting the Bible to stigmatise homosexuals.
In a column published by the E-Tanga website, Reverend Apelu Tielu said that condemnation by sports stars could have “lethal consequences” for some gay people.
“In this case, Israel is irresponsible for not taking the time to consider the likely adverse effects of his comments on vulnerable people — and it appears he hasn’t taken the time to reflect on his status in wider society, and how his words and actions would impact on his fans,” he said.
“Christians are not God’s moral police, because Christianity is not about living a moral life. Christianity is about living a divine life — living life as if we are Jesus the Christ of God. This life offers life to others. It’s a life of love in words and deeds. It’s a life lived for others.”
“The issue of homosexuals in the Bible is complex, and is highly misconstrued and misunderstood. But Jesus is the point of reference if you need some insights. Offer love, not judgement and condemnation — that’s the key value of the Christian faith.”