While the Israel Folau case plays out in the national media, some Port Macquarie locals have been watching it carefully - aware it may go beyond rugby union - and have broader implications for their own lives.
Long-term Lake Cathie resident Suzanne Cooper is not happy with how Israel Folau has been treated.
"The Folau case makes me really, really angry," Ms Cooper said.
"It makes me feel angry because our forefathers wrote the constitution based on Christian principles and we all enjoy the benefits of that now and yet he is being maligned because he is speaking out about his Christian faith."
The committed Catholic believes Folau has been "discriminated against" because of his religion.
One of the biggest names in rugby union, Folau was banned from the sport on May 17 by Rugby Australia for sharing a post on his Instagram account warning hell awaits for "homosexuals, fornicators, drunks and atheists".
Ms Cooper does not believe the post is offensive.
According to her, it is a mere expression of his religion.
She highlights homosexuals were not the only group targeted in the post.
The broader issue for Ms Cooper goes beyond Folau.
"I am concerned about future generations being unable to publicly proclaim their faith," she said.
"It will become like Malaysia where you can't proselytize or you will get arrested, there is freedom of worship but there is not freedom of religion."
Port Macquarie Coastside pastor Mark Minturn is also concerned.
He described Folau's comments as "isolating, unlikeable and graceless" but defended his right to speak them.
"Despite Israel Folau's comments being deemed offensive, when we shut down the right for people to express their personal beliefs we shut down the right of all Australians to have an individual voice," Mr Minturn said.
Gay community feeling it
President of diversity group Pride in Port, Richard Sheargold, has little sympathy for those concerned about religious freedom.
He argues social media posts like Folau's can have a devastating impact on a young person struggling with their sexuality.
"It may be a flippant remark for them but for some people it is the difference between life and death," Mr Sheargold said.
"The debate shouldn't be about the right to say it, but the cost of saying it."
He isn't shocked by the controversy.
"I have been on the receiving end of bigotry and hate. Several years ago I was attacked in a nightclub due to my homosexuality and was almost killed," Mr Sheargold said.
"We live in a culture built on a history of misunderstanding and inbred hatred towards the rainbow community."
And he is convinced Folau should be banned for life.
"What it boils down to is if I am at work and tell a customer 'your life is wrong and you're going to hell' then I get punished. As a public figure with a brand attached to you, you are always 'at work' when addressing the public and the outcome is the same as I would expect for anyone no matter how famous or popular they are," Mr Sheargold said.
"When you represent a brand it is like following a religion, you cannot pick the parts you want to follow and ignore the rest and still expect a holy ending."
Religious freedom under the microscope
At no time in Australia's history has religious freedom been so hotly contested.
Some commentators have identified faith as a sleeper issue in the May 18 federal election result.
Marginal seats with a high number of religious voters flocked to the Morrison Government attracted to the Prime Minister's demonstrative Christian faith.
During the election, the PM committed to introducing a religious discrimination bill borne out of Philip Ruddock's religious freedom review completed earlier this year.
The genesis of the review came in the wake of the same-sex marriage debate designed to placate those concerned that the change in law would erode their rights (for example the baker who refuses to make a cake for a same-sex wedding because of his religious belief).
Conservative MPs within the Coalition emboldened by the election result are now also calling for 'Folau's Law' which would exempt religious beliefs from employment contracts and could afford legal protection to views like those expressed by Folau.
For the record Attorney-General Christian Porter has ruled it out but a religious freedom bill is expected to be debated in parliament by July.
The Port News contacted Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie and new Cowper MP Pat Conaghan about their views on a potential religious freedom bill.
Both are Catholic.
Neither were available to comment.
Dr Gillespie was overseas and Mr Conaghan unwell.
Business community watching closely
The Folau case goes beyond an isolated Instagram post.
In April 2018, Folau responded to a question on his Instagram post about what God's plan is for gay people, saying: "HELL...Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God".
Rugby Australia decided not to sanction Folau then but Chief Executive Raelene Castle warned all players over their obligation to use social media in a respectful way.
Earlier this year Folau signed a new four-year multi-million dollar deal which was believed to contain social media clauses.
Professor of Workplace Law at RMIT University Anthony Forsyth believes the Folau case could set a precedent in employment contracts.
"What makes Folau's case different is that it sets up a clash between employment contract law and legal protections against discrimination on the basis of religion," he wrote in The Conversation on June 12.
"This could set an important employment law precedent for future cases like this, which is especially contentious at a time when religious freedom is being so fiercely debated in Australia."
Port Macquarie Business Chamber board member Chris Denny believes small business - which is the lifeblood of regional communities like Port Macquarie - are unlikely to include a religion clause in their contracts.
But he says most employers in the area would be watching the Folau case closely.
"Anyone in business is increasingly aware of their legal obligations with regards to discrimination acts," Mr Denny said.
"Businesses will need to develop some type of policy framework for these things, they will be watching the Israel Folau case and any recommendations that flow from the Chamber of Commerce and so forth.
"I think religious freedom will certainly be something employers are more aware of after the Israel Folau case."
Community divided on Folau
On the streets of Port Macquarie the community appears split.
Vicki Peterson described Folau's posts as 'hate' speech.
"It could easily get out of hand quickly in the hands of children and youth when it is hate speech," Ms Peterson said.
"People have the right to freedom of speech but this is hate speech.
"He should have thought before he spoke and watch who you hurt."
Another man who didn't want to be named supported Folau being banned.
"Everybody can say what they can say but he had an agreement that he wouldn't say those things and he broke the agreement."
On the other end of the spectrum 19-year-old Leander Wilken described the ban as "excessive".
"It was a massive overreaction," Mr Willken said.
"He is a hell of a player so that is their loss."
Michael, a self-proclaimed "atheist", is also concerned.
"I hate homophobia in any form but there seems no doubt that Israel Folau believes deeply in his religious conviction from what he is saying," Michael said.
"Despite my concerns about what he has said I am uncomfortable that he is being so severely punished for it."
Implications for local rugby clubs
Folau is suing Rugby Australia for unlawful termination of his contract, arguing he was fired for his religious beliefs.
He is seeking $5 million in salary, under the Fair Work Act, plus damages.
He has not specified the amount of compensation but it is believed, given his status, it will be substantial.
The financial implications for Rugby Australia from an expensive legal case could be severe.
The organisation has taken out insurance, but it won't be enough cover all costs and there are reports that there will be cuts to grassroots rugby union.
Mid North Coast Rugby Chief Executive Officer Bob Wilson lambasted Rugby Australia for their handling of the Folau case.
"It has been handled very, very poorly," Mr Wilson said but declined to elaborate further.
He didn't believe it would have implications at a local level though.
"We don't get any money anyway," Mr Wilson said.
"Rugby Australia fund one development officer from Newcastle to the Queensland border and it just isn't enough.
"In the 1990s we used to get financial grants from Rugby Australia but now we don't get anything.
"The only reason club rugby is thriving on the Mid-North-Coast is because of the players, volunteers, officials and clubs."