Rugby Australia has denied it offered Israel Folau money to take down a social media post that led to his sacking, ahead of an independent employment tribunal meeting in Sydney.
The ex-Wallaby was swamped by media when he arrived at the Fair Work Commission in Sydney on Friday for the meeting with RA – the first formal step in his unfair dismissal case.
Asked what he wanted out of the closed conciliation, the 30-year-old committed Christian told reporters “hopefully an apology from Rugby Australia. That would be great.”
Folau shook hands and thanked a supporter, who said “God go with you brother … we’re praying for you”.
Rugby Australia tore up Folau’s multi-million dollar contract after taking issue with a social media post in April that was condemned as homophobic.
Folau had paraphrased a Bible passage saying “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented.
He argues he was unfairly dismissed on religious grounds.
Folau is seeking $10 million in damages from Rugby Australia and wants his multi million- dollar contract reinstated.
In a video posted on his website before Friday’s meeting, Folau said he hoped RA would accept his termination was unlawful and reach an agreement about how to fix the “mistake”.
“First and foremost, I am hoping for an apology from Rugby Australia and an acknowledgement that even if they disagree with my views, that I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or exclusion,” he said.
Folau claimed on Thursday Rugby Australia had offered him money to remove the post at the centre of the dispute and he had declined because sharing the Bible was one of his duties as a Christian.
I couldn’t do that … I couldn’t live with that,” Folau said.
“It certainly comes from a place of love and it’s nothing personal.”
But Rugby Australia says Folau’s claim is “completely untrue” and it never offered him money to remove the posts.
More than 20,000 people have donated more than $2.2 million to help fund Folau’s legal battle via a campaign page set up by the Australian Christian Lobby.
The ACL effort replaced an earlier campaign on GoFundMe that was taken down by the platform for breaching its service guidelines.
“I want to thank you all for your prayers and your support. You have made it possible for me to stand up for every Australian of faith,” Folau said.
“I know we are strong enough to tolerate different views without firing people from their jobs for expressing religious beliefs that not everybody agrees with.”