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The future of freedom of speech and religion

The Future of Freedom of Speech and Religion after Israel Folau

Israel Folau is one of Australia’s most prominent rugby players, known for sharing provocative content on social media. His sacking by Rugby Australia has been highly controversial, with some suggesting it influenced the outcome of the 2019 federal election.

This Folau affair implicates numerous areas of law and raises fundamental questions for the future of public debate in Australia, and has potentially significant implications for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Deakin Law School is hosting a conference to investigate the major aspects of the Folau matter and its implications for Australian law and society. The convenor of the conference, Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Ben Saunders, touched on the broader ramifications of the case: 

Australia was quick to condemn outspoken rugby player Israel Folau for the expression of his controversial religious views. Many lined up to cast judgment on the star player and his rugby career was swiftly terminated. While at face value the case is merely a contractual dispute between an employer and an employee, it raises troubling broader questions about the extent of corporate power and the acceptable limits of speech in a pluralist society.

Join Deakin Law School as we welcome the following leading experts from around Australia.

Conference speakers 
Professor Jack AndersonDirector of Studies, Sports Law, University of Melbourne – Folau v Rugby Australia – The Instagram Post That Made it All the Way to the Federal Court

Associate Professor Patrick EmertonLaw Resources, Monash University – Religious Freedom as an Instrumental Good

Professor Helen Fenwick and Dr Andrew Hayward, University of Durham – Conflicts Between Free Expression, Freedom of Religion and Avoidance of Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation within the ECHR Framework

Professor Anthony ForsythGraduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University – Thou Shalt Not… Make Public Comments which Damage the Business Interests of thy Employer

Professor Beth GazeCo-Director of Studies, Employment and Labour Relations Law, University of Melbourne – Religious Speech and Anti-Discrimination Law

Professor Matthew GrovesAlfred Deakin Professor of Law, Deakin Law School – From Netball to Football – The Principles and Problems of Decision-Making by Sports Tribunals

Anja HilkemeijerLecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania – The Flip Side of Folau: The Dismissal of Employees by Religious Organisations for Breaches of Codes of Conduct – A Human Rights Balancing Act

Dr Harry Hobbs, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney – Israel Folau and the Legal Protection of Human Rights in Australia

Ghassan Kassisieh, Equality Australia – On Behalf of The Sinners: The Case For Balanced Religious Discrimination Protections

Dr John McCleanVice Principal, Christ College, Sydney – More than ‘Do Unto Others’: Jesus’ Surprising Relevance to Freedom of Religion

Professor Patrick Parkinson, Academic Dean and Head of School, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland – The New Totalitarianism: Freedom of Speech in an Age of 24/7 Employment

Professor Paul Redmond, Sir Gerard Brennan Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney – Corporate Power, Corporate Responsibility and the Israel Folau Matter

Mark SneddonInstitute for Civil Society – Robust Civility, the Right to be Wrong and Freedom of Religious Expression

Conference convenor
Dr Ben Saunders
, Senior Lecturer and Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin Law School – Free Exercise of Religion and the Constitution: Time for a Rethink?

This conference will make an important contribution to the public debate on religious freedom and the proposed Religious Discrimination legislation, providing a forum to facilitate informed discussion.

Deakin is committed to diversity and inclusion to maintain the dignity, rights and wellbeing of our staff and students. We deliver services and run programs to ensure equal access for students and staff, and support campaigns to promote awareness about diversity, access and social inclusion.