By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
An adjunct professor of Catholicism at the University of Illinois has been fired after a student accused the instructor of hate speech for saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual acts are immoral. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.
Tom Peters of the popular CatholicVoteAction.org blog is reporting that Professor Ken Howell of the University of Illinois at Champaigne-Urbana was fired last month after his instruction on Church teaching about homosexuality prompted one of his students to accuse him of hate speech and report him to the University’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns.
In a letter Professor Howell wrote describing the incident, he explained that he gives two lectures per semester on Catholic moral positions in his “Introduction to Catholicism” class. In the lecture pertaining to homosexuality, he typically presents Church teaching on homosexual acts as being contrary to human nature and therefore morally wrong.
In the past, he’s had no trouble about presenting these facts, but the last semester was unusual.
“In previous years, I had students who might have disagreed with the Church’s position but they did so respectfully and without incident,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. “This semester (Spring 2010) I noticed the most vociferous reaction that I have ever had. It seemed out of proportion to all that I had known thus far.”
In order to help students better understand Church teaching, he sent an e-mail to students contrasting ulititarianism (in the populist sense) and natural moral law and showing why homosexual acts would be considered moral under the former, and immoral under the latter.
The next thing he knew, he was being called into the office of the chairman of the Department of Religion and told that someone had reported the e-mail to the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns at the University.
As a result, “I was told that I would no longer be able to teach in the Department of Religion,” he said.
Professor Howell then consulted with a Diocesan lawyer named Mrs. Patricia Gibson, to see if the University’s St. John Newman Center could sue the university for breach of contract.
“Mrs. Gibson, kind in spirit and articulate as regards the law, told me that unfortunately the university had made very careful provisions to protect itself and so would not be liable in a law suit,” Howell wrote. “I am still consulting with other lawyers about possible legal action on the grounds of the first amendment.”
The final blow came when the current director of the Newman Center, Monsignor Gregory Ketcham, told Howell the Center could not keep employing him “since there was no longer any teaching for me to do.”
Thus, after more than 60 years, students at the University of Illinois will have no classes on Catholicism available to them, Howell writes.
“If the Department of Religion continues to offer the course I taught, I have no idea how accurately Catholicism will be represented.”
Thankfully, lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, have agreed to represent Dr. Howell and are in the process of deciding how to best proceed legally.
“As Catholics, we can’t allow this injustice to stand,” writes Peters. “If a university can have valid grounds for firing a professor as upstanding as this one for an opinion so universally held by the Church, other universities will be able to gradually push out faithful Catholic teachers from their institutions once they decide the positions taken by the Church and being defended by such-and-such a teacher are inconvenient or offensive.”
People are being encouraged to write to the University of Illinois Public Affairs office at email@example.com to respectfully express their opinion.
Concerned Catholics are also being invited to join the “Save Dr. Ken” Facebook page to express support.
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