As the donations towards Israel Folau’s war chest poured in on Tuesday, the Australian Christian Lobby labelled its campaign a roaring success.
The devout rugby union star is hoping to raise $3 million for his legal costs to fight his sacking by Rugby Australia for a social media post that called on “sinners” – including drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters – to repent, turn to Jesus Christ and thus be saved from an eternity in Hell.
By Wednesday morning it had raised well over $1.5 million for the cause.
In the first 15 hours that the page was live, Folau has made almost $60,000 every 60 minutes.
As the debate between freedom and hate speech raged across airwaves, down social media threads and through opinion pieces, The New Daily spoke to donors who had decided to put their money where their mouth was, and chuck Folau some cash.
Sam, who would only give his first name, said he doubled his donation after ACL put up its campaign.
“I originally gave $1000 to the GoFundMe page. After that got cancelled I donated $2000,” he said.
The Melburnian said he does not share the same religious beliefs as Folau but donated because “people who have different beliefs get abused”.
“It has nothing to do with my beliefs. Has everything to do with having the freedom to have your own views,” Sam said.
“I was angry at the GoFundMe page picking and choosing what’s acceptable to have a GoFundMe page for.
“Once they deleted the page I was angry and donated twice as much as a show of strength to the cause.”
When asked if the LGBTI community should be free to live as themselves without the threat of going to hell, Sam said they should just “block” out Folau.
“They are free to do what they want. They can just block him and move on with their life. I don’t see adulterers and drunks crying about this post.”
Former Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs also noted Folau had named several groups, such as atheists and fornicators, in his post before telling the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas he was entitled to his view that “we are all going to hell”.
“I think it’s foolish and disproportionate to prevent him from preaching something that I think he probably believes quite deeply as a matter of religious expression,” she said.
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome points out, it’s not “thieves and drunkards” who are going to harmed by this debate.
“The real victims in this debate are those young, vulnerable LGBTI people who Folau has attacked, and who are being made to endure another painful public debate about their lives and rights so soon after the postal survey.”
Hundreds have now chipped in to financially back Folau, but the ACL is keeping the identity of the donors behind the growing coffer close to its chest.
A spokeswoman for the ACL told The New Daily the donations had come from private individuals, as opposed to church groups.
“They’re everyday Australians. The donations range from $5 to larger amounts. They’re coming from all over Australia,” she said.
“It’s pretty incredible. We’re amazed at the support that Izzy is getting.”
Although the ACL is a registered charity the spokeswoman said the donations would not be tax deductible – a point it fails to highlight on the fundraising page.
The ACL was tight-lipped about who is behind the incredible amount of money pouring into the legal fund.
The group refused to answer questions about the donors’ demographics, what the largest amounts were, or even the average.
It also would not say what would happen to any excess funds raised.
Although their identities may be hidden, those donating to Folau’s campaign should think about “whether his cause is worth their support” before contributing their hard-earned cash, said Mr Croome.
“This is a man who deliberately violated the conditions of his rugby contract by comparing gay people to liars and thieves and then, in his appeal for money he doesn’t need, violated the conditions that apply to raise money on GoFundMe.”
“Israel Folau, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are not the victims here,” Mr Croome said.
The real threat to human rights in Australia are people who use “religious freedom” to roll back discrimination protections, he argued.
“To all those Australians who have a sincere belief in freedom of speech and freedom of religion, I say don’t be sucked in by the fearmongers who tell you these things are somehow under threat.”