With it being the front page of every newspaper, the top story on every news bulletin, and countless talkback radio commentators and callers putting in their two cents, I am reluctant to add anything more to what has already been said in the Israel Folau saga.
But last week’s corporate attacks on netball star, Maria Folau, makes me think there just might be.
Maria has not spoken publicly about the incident of her husband’s now-infamous Instagram post on 10 April, but last week shared on her own social media account a link to the GoFundMe page that was set up to raise funds for Israel’s legal battle against Rugby Australia.
Stefan Herrick, the media manager for ANZ, a sponsor of Netball NZ and the national New Zealand team, the Silver Ferns, made a statement where he said that ANZ “do not support the views of Silver Fern Maria Folau and have made our views known to her employer Netball NZ.”
HCF, a sponsor of Maria’s Adelaide Thunderbirds team, made a statement that it “does not support Maria Folau’s stance on this matter” and called for “a strong, clear and well enforced social media policy and education amongst [Netball Australia’s] players and staff.”
And finally, Mazda released a statement, saying that it “does not support discrimination of any kind and we trust that Netball South Australia will manage [Maria Folau’s sharing of the GoFundMe page] in the most inclusive and supportive way possible.”
Corporate pressure was applied at a national level in both New Zealand and Australia, a state-based level and a team level. This was no small intervention.
It left me wondering. If ANZ, HCF and Mazda were willing to intervene simply for the “crime” of a player in a team they sponsor sharing a link to the GoFundMe page, would employees of these companies be disciplined for a similar action?
To find out, I approached each of ANZ, HCF and Mazda directly to see how ordinary employees would be treated if they mirrored the posts from Israel or Maria Folau on their own, personal social media accounts. Each company was asked the following questions:
1. Before issuing the statement, did your company consider whether any of its own staff members who were of the Christian faith would feel excluded, or that their own employment may be threatened, by such a release from their employer?
2. Does the company have a position on whether there will be any consequences for an employee who, like Maria Folau, chose to share a link to the fundraising page for Israel Folau on their own social media account?
If so, what would those consequences be? If not, what steps has the company taken, if any, to assure staff members that they are able to freely show their support for Mr Folau’s cause?
3. Does the company have any restriction or code of conduct that relates to its own staff members about what religious messages may or may not be shared online?
4. Would a staff member who shared the text of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 on their social media account face any disciplinary action in relation to their employment?
I only received a response from ANZ, who told me I could attribute the following to a spokesman:
“We value our partnership with Netball NZ and any suggestion we have tried to pressure them is absolutely incorrect. ANZ NZ believes in diversity and inclusion. We’re very proud we have a rainbow tick as an employer and over the years have supported rainbow activities in the community. We do not support any views or actions that can be interpreted as supporting homophobia. We will continue to support Netball NZ and the tens of thousands of participants and supporters of the game.”
I was told separately that “diversity and inclusion” extends to all people of faith, which is something, I guess.
But it is also telling for what it did not include. There was no attempt to answer my question about the freedom (or lack thereof) of an individual employee to express Christian belief on their social media accounts, or even to support Folau’s campaign.
At least ANZ responded.
The silence from HCF and Mazda was deafening. One would hope that the answers to my questions were not very difficult. Unfortunately, it appears that no company is willing to go on the record to comment on the freedom of their employees when it comes to the public expression of matters of faith, even if those matters are unpopular.
As the government looks to move ahead with a religious discrimination bill, these are the situations it needs to address: not the high profile cases, but whether an employer is entitled to sanction an employee for doing something as simple as sharing a link to a fundraiser on their own social media page; a fundraiser which, to be clear, had such widespread backing that it raised more than $2 million from tens of thousands of ordinary Australians who know that this has gone too far.