On June 9th, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported that Dr. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor at the the University of Illinois, was fired for teaching that homosexual acts violate the natural moral law during his class on Catholicism.
A student (not in the class) wrote to the head of the religion department on behalf of a friend (who was apparently in the class) charging Howell with “hate speech.” Howell was informed he would no longer be teaching at UI. He then wrote a letter explaining how he came to be teaching his classes:
Howell said in the letter, which was obtained by CNA, that he first came to teach at the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in 1998. At the time, courses on the Catholic faith were taught through the Newman Center, he explained, but in 2000, an agreement was made with the University of Illinois’ department of religion, and he became an adjunct professor in the department and taught classes on Catholicism.
“Since the Fall of 2001, I have been regularly teaching two courses in the department of religion,” Howell explained. One of the classes, “Introduction to Catholicism,” includes an explanation of Natural Moral Law as affirmed by the Church as well as an application of Natural Law Theory to a disputed social issue.
“Most of those semesters, my chosen topic was the moral status of homosexual acts,” he explained.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of all this is the refusal of the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center to defend or support Howell in any way:
“I suggested that we work together to have courses on Catholicism taught at the Newman Center that could be accredited by a Catholic university and that could be transferred into the University of Illinois for credit,” Howell said. “In this way, the students whom we had been called to serve could continue to be instructed in the Catholic Faith.”
However, Monsignor Ketcham said that he had no interest in such a plan, according to Howell.
Perhaps there are sides to this story not reported. However, it’s troubling that a professor teaching a course on Catholicism can be fired for doing his job, simply because one student — who wasn’t even in the class — calls his explanation of Catholic teaching, “hate speech.”
Academic freedom is essential on a university campus. I hope the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), with whom Howell is working, successfully sues the university.