By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A religion instructor who was fired by the University of Illinois for teaching the Roman Catholic stance on homosexuality has been reinstated and will return to his job this fall.
According to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), adjunct associate professor Kenneth Howell was reinstated yesterday, just one day after the deadline when his lawyers said they would sue the university for violating his academic freedom if administrators failed to reinstate him.
Howell, who has taught on the Urbana-Champaign campus since 2001, was removed last month after explaining during class why the church believes that homosexual behavior violates natural moral law. He elaborated later in an e-mail that lawyers say circulated around campus, prompting one student to call it “hate speech.”
“All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult,” Howell wrote. “That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions.”
After being reported to the campus’ diversity office, he was subsequently fired from his job, a move that generated national outrage.
“A university cannot censor a professors’ speech-including classroom speech related to the topic of the class-merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “We greatly appreciate the university’s move to put Professor Howell back in the classroom, but we will be watching carefully to make sure that his academic freedom is protected throughout the university’s ongoing process.”
A letter from the University of Illinois Office of University Counsel admits no wrongdoing on the part of the university but states, “The School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics will be contacting Dr. Howell to offer him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism, on a visiting instructional appointment at the University of Illinois, for the fall 2010 semester. Dr. Howell will be appointed and paid by the University for this adjunct teaching assignment.”
The letter then adds that a university committee will continue its investigation of Howell’s situation to determine if his removal violated his academic freedom or right to due process.
ADF attorneys intend to keep an eye on the situation. The ADF’s Jordan Lorence reassured: “We are going to be monitoring what happens now to make sure Ken Howell’s academic freedom under the First Amendment is protected.”
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