Tennis champion and Christian pastor Margaret Court has defended Israel Folau, who she says is being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Folau will appear before a code of conduct hearing on May 4 in a bid to avoid being sacked by Rugby Australia after he claimed on social media “hell awaits” homosexuals and suggested transgender law reform was influenced by the devil.
Asked for her views on the controversy, Court defended the Wallabies fullback and said her “heart goes out to him because he’s being persecuted.”
“I understand why Israel is doing this: you want everybody to know Christ and under it all there is a great love for your nation and you want people to know what you have received,” she told The Australian.
“He really just wants people to come to Christ. That’s where I believe people haven’t really read his heart.”
But Court, who after her tennis career founded the Victory Life church in Perth, conceded to radio station 3AW that Folau “probably wasn’t very diplomatic, the way he put it.”
“He just didn’t say homosexuals, he said drug addicts and alcoholics… the lying, the cheating, the murderers and the adulterers,” Court said.
“I don’t think he should be penalised because really there’s a truth there.
“We have to repent and turn away from some things if we want to know him. What he is saying about repenting is straight out of the Bible.”
‘Inconsistent with the values of the sport’
But Rugby Australia chief executive officer Raelene Castle said on Monday the matter “is not a religious discussion”.
“This is a discussion around the employee, employer relationship and the values and the contractual arrangements within that agreement, that’s on the basis on which we have served him a breach notice,” she said.
Last week, Rugby Australia said Folau’s social media posts were “inconsistent with the values of the sport” and they were intending to terminate Folau’s $4 million contract “in the absence of compelling mitigating circumstances”.
“This is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and the commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values,” Rugby Australia explained last week.
“Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations.
“All professional Rugby players in Australia are bound by the Code of Conduct and there is a process in place for any disciplinary matter.”
Margaret Court has previously caused controversy with very similar comments against same-sex marriage and transgender people.
She previously compared the “gay lobby” to Hitler’s Nazi regime for trying to “get in the minds of children”, complained that tennis is “full of lesbians”, and said that LGBTIQ people “want marriage because they want to destroy it.”
“There will be no Mother’s Day, there will be no Father’s Day, there will be no Easter, there will be no Christmas,” she said ahead of the 2017 postal survey vote.
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