A campaign to raise funds to support Israel Folau’s legal stoush with Rugby Australia could soon be suspended after donations reached $2m.
The Australian Christian Lobby, which set up the Folau fundraiser on its website, called the flow of donations overwhelming.
“We have decided we should stop at $2m and raise more money if and when we need it,” the ACL head, Martyn Iles, told the Australian on Thursday. “The sheer scale and pace of the response from donors has just been overwhelming.”
The ACL appears to be seeking to cash in on publicity generated by the Folau case, asking supporters to chip in for a separate religious freedom fighting fund to raise $1.6m by the end of the financial year.
The outpouring of money for Folau’s legal battle comes as the former Wallaby, RA and their lawyers prepare for a conciliation hearing on Friday with the Fair Work Commission.
An RMIT University law school professor, Anthony Forsyth, said it was unusual for lawyers to be involved at this point. “Normally people are self-represented at the conciliation stage,” he told Guardian Australia.
Forsyth said the presence of lawyers could mean two things – either the desire of both parties to settle or an indication that Folau wanted to “go in all guns blazing, to show how serious he is”.
He expects the conciliation hearing to be held in person rather than by phone hook-up.
The Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan in September and runs until November. Forsyth doesn’t think the Folau legal saga will be concluded by then, particularly if it progresses to the federal court.
“It’s a fairly typical pattern that parties don’t settle at these conciliation hearings but the closer you get to the actual [court] date … that’s when you start to see people focusing a lot more on settlement and it’s quite common to settle even up to the day or the morning of the hearing,” he said.
Folau wanted to raise $3m to fund his unfair dismissal claim, saying the termination of his contract amounts to discrimination on religious grounds. But employment lawyers have raised eyebrows at that figure, saying if he were hiring the most expensive legal team in the country $3m would be hard to spend – even if his case progressed to the high court.
The players is seeking $10m in damages from RA and wants his multimillion-dollar contract to be reinstated.
RA took issue with a social media post in April in which Folau paraphrased a Bible passage, saying “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented.
He took to Instagram on Wednesday to thank his supporters: “I am humbled by the support I have received from so many of you since Rugby Australia terminated my employment contract after I shared a religious message on social media.
“To those who have criticised me, I bear no ill will towards you. You have every right to express your own beliefs and opinions. To the thousands of you who donated to my GoFundMe campaign, I am forever grateful.”
By Thursday morning, Folau had raised $2.1m.
The ACL’s fundraising effort began on Tuesday, replacing the rugby star’s appeal on GoFundMe that was taken down by the crowdfunding platform for breaching its terms of service.