The Australian Christian Lobby’s fresh fund-raising effort for Israel Folau has been flooded with donations, soaring past $500,000 within hours of its launch.
The deluge of pledges comes as the divide on the issue appears to be widening, with one of Australia’s most senior Anglican leaders saying treatment of the former star Wallaby “smacks of a new and ugly Australia”.
“It is of great concern to many Australians that this right is being denied and vilified,” Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies said on Tuesday.
Archbishop Davies said there were deeply held views on both sides of the issue, but “only one side is being heard”.
“The way in which Folau’s motives have been impugned and his avenues of support have been cut off smacks of a new and ugly Australia where dissent from narrow cultural views is not tolerated,” he said.
Folau’s original post came from a place of “deep conscience and concern” and not malice, the archbishop said.
“It had nothing to do with rugby and it should have been his right as a citizen to speak of what he believes without threat to his employment.”
The archbishop said the clear support of ordinary Christians had been “ignored, marginalised and silenced”.
“Loud, intolerant voices swamp the quiet faith of many,” he said.
Folau has been trying to raise a $3 million war chest from public donations to fund his legal battle against Rugby Australia, which terminated his $4 million contract in May.
He has since launched legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against RA and is seeking up to $10 million in damages.
Rugby Australia’s decision came after Folau posted a biblical passage on social media saying “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented.
Folau said he had been discriminated against on religious grounds and set up the GoFundMe page, which raised more than $750,000 in about four days.
On Monday, GoFundMe took the page down, citing a breach of its terms of service. It said it would refund the more than 7000 donors.
“While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion,” GoFundMe Australia’s regional manager Nicola Britton said.
Later on Monday, ACL managing director Martyn Iles tweeted a link to the new fund-raising page, saying he had spoken to Folau over the development, declaring “we fixed it”.
ACL’s page contains the text of Folau’s original GoFundMe post.
“Please give generously today to help Folau stand for your religious freedoms,” Mr Iles wrote on the site.
By 4.30pm (AEST), more than $900,000 in donations had been raised for Folau via the link on the ACL site.
Donations rolled in at more than $1000 a minute in the hour before midday, with no signs of slowing down as the afternoon went on.
The ACL has also promised to tip in an additional $100,000 of its own money.
Donations for Folau through ACL will be transferred to a trust account to pay for his legal bills.
A spokesman for Folau denied his campaign was incompatible with GoFundMe’s terms of service.
“Unfortunately, GoFundMe has buckled to demands against the freedom of Australians to donate to his cause,” the spokesman said.
“There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination against Israel and his supporters.”
The ACL campaign comes after Change.org director Sally Rugg criticised Folau on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night, saying his “disgusting” comments made her feel sick.
“The words that Folau uses about gay Australians – people like me – they exist in a context where the Morrison government is looking at whether people really care or not that religious schools can exclude LGBTI teachers and students,” she said.
More than 95,000 people had signed an online petition calling on GoFundMe to take down Folau’s page.