Catholic professor fired for teaching Catholic beliefs in Catholic class
The Alliance Defense Fund urged recently the University of Illinois to reinstate a Catholic professor who was fired for teaching Catholic beliefs in his Introduction to Catholicism class.
Dr. Kenneth Howell, a Catholic religion professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has been in the institution’s employ since 2001.
However last year Howell, a highly regarded faculty member with consistently high ratings from students, was fired for talking about the Catholic viewpoint on homosexual behavior, ADF Media said.
Travis Barham, litigator of the ADF, wrote on July 12 to the University of Illinois’ president, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and head of the religion department, seeking Howell’s reinstatement, the Catholic News Agency said.
In his letter Barham said, “In relieving Dr. Howell of his teaching responsibilities, the university is firing him for teaching Catholic doctrine in a class about Catholic doctrine,” Catholic News Agency said.
Barham said Howell was only removed because some people did not like his speech. Still, he stressed that the First Amendment protects controversial ideas from being silenced, the Catholic News Agency said.
In the actual letter it was noted that Howell stressed to his students that they need not become Catholics to do well in his class. Instead, he sought for them to understand and critically analyze Catholic thought.
The issue that led to Howell’s dismissal was an email that he sent to his class as a follow up to a classroom lecture, which explained utilitarianism and natural law theory in shaping the morality of homosexual acts, Catholic News Agency said.
One student decried the letter as hate mail and at the end of the semester Howell was let go for violating “university standards of inclusivity,” the Catholic News Agency said.
ADF Senior Counsel David French doubted the university had a right to curtail classroom speech that was lesson related, and called it an outrage that a professor was fired for doing so, more so because the professor was not allowed to defend himself, ADF Media said.
The subject matter, “The Question of Homosexuality in Catholic Thought,” had been regularly covered in this class. The topic was framed in the context of natural moral law and Catholic belief. In the past students would simply respectfully disagree. The purpose of the email was to enhance student understanding of the subject matter, Barham’s ADF letter noted.
The basis of Howell’s dismissal was an anonymous complaint sent by email to university officials, plus the fact that others including students, staff and faculty disliked Howell’s email.
Barham referred to this as a “heckler’s veto” in his letter, and stressed that the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the right of controversial ideas to be heard, Barham’s ADF letter said.
French said, “The First Amendment protects the ability of faculty to speak freely, especially when the material is of direct relevance to the class. Professors’ careers cannot be made to stand or fall based on the emotions of intolerant, anonymous students who do not yet understand that opposing viewpoints exist within a free society,” ADF Media said.