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The importance of protecting free speech

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Rugby Australia is doing more damage to its own reputation by the bullying and intimidation of its employee-contractor Israel Folau over the expression of his religious beliefs than Folau's original over-the-top expression of those beliefs.

The case was one of several in recent weeks that have tested the way institutions in Australia deal with the question of freedom of speech.

We should not lose sight of the importance of freedom of speech however much social media foghorns and pushes people and the mainstream media towards extremes in order to gain attention in an environment where anyone can easily and cheaply publish to the world.

Israel Folau, Raelene Castle composite. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers, James Alcock

It means we have to protect freedom of the speech we disagree with, even if it is distasteful or wrong-headed.

The test for gagging is not whether the speech is false, wrong-headed or distasteful, but whether it does harm.

Corporations and institutions are applying ever more restrictions on their employees in the face of the easy-publication environment of the internet with its flow on influence to mainstream media. They fear their reputations are at greater risk.

Rugby Australia is a good example. But its treatment of Folau is mired in hypocrisy.

Folau's tweet is worth analyzing. He wrote: "Warning. Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves."

Rugby Australia's reaction was to issue him with a breach notice, saying that the tweet breached his contract. Alternatively, it might argue that he breached the standard player code of........

© Canberra Times