An adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism at the University of Illinois has lost his teaching job there, and he claims it is a violation of his academic freedom.
Kenneth Howell was told after the spring semester ended that he would no longer be teaching in the UI's Department of Religion. The decision came after a student complained about a discussion of homosexuality in the class in which Howell taught that the Catholic Church believes homosexual acts are morally wrong.
Howell has been an adjunct lecturer in the department for nine years, during which he taught two courses, Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. He was also director of the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John's Catholic Newman Center on campus and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Funding for his salary came from the Institute of Catholic Thought.
One of his lectures in the introductory class on Catholicism focuses on the application of natural law theory to a social issue. In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.
"Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY," he wrote in the e-mail, obtained by The News-Gazette. "In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same."
He went on to write there has been a disassociation of sexual activity from morality and procreation, in contradiction of Natural Moral Theory.
The student complaint came in a May 13 e-mail to Robert McKim, head of the religion department. The author of the e-mail said he was writing on behalf of a friend – a student in Howell's class, who wanted to remain anonymous. The e-mail complained about Howell's statements about homosexuality, which the student called "hate speech.
Now the argument could made - and will be - that the university overreacted. Howell has retained the services of the Alliance Defense Fund, so I imagine we will hear ad naseum about the so-called gay agenda.
But there seems to be another side of this that no one is discussing.
Granted, I am not defending anyone but I would like to refer everyone to the email in question; the reason Howell was fired after a student complained. There seems to be more in it than simply stating a religious position against homosexuality. Particularly this passage:
One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the "woman" while the other acts as the "man." In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.
Again, maybe the university overreacted.
But then again, what if Howell had made negative generalizations regarding the African-American community or the Latino community or the Jewish community?
Maybe he shouldn't have been fired. But it seems to me that this isn't a case about a man who was fired merely for stating his religious beliefs. Howell crossed the line when he began making comments - inaccurate generalizations - about gay sex.
But who cares about delving behind the story to get the facts when there is a "hot angle" to exploit.