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University fires Catholic professor who said homosexual acts violate natural law

July 12, 2010

Following a student complaint, the University of Illinois refused to renew the contract of Dr. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct religion professor, who wrote in an e-mail that “Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY” and that “sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.” Dr. Howell, who taught courses on Catholicism at the university and was recognized for excellence in teaching in 2008 and 2009, wrote the e-mail to his students to help them prepare for their final exam; in the e-mail, he compared utilitarianism and the natural moral law.

“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another,” the offended student complained to the head of the religion department; he also sent complaints to the director of the university's LGBT Resource Center and the professor who founded the university’s queer studies major. “The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one's worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.”

Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, supported the student. “The e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us,” she said.

The Diocese of Peoria then fired Dr. Howell from the position of director of the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the university.

“We funded the position so he could teach at the UI,” explained Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Diocese of Peoria. “He has been told he cannot teach these classes in the future.”

“We are very concerned and very distressed by what we understand is the situation from Dr. Howell.”


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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Jul. 17, 2010 7:37 PM ET USA

    I just heard from the President of the University, Mr. Michael Hogan, with a form letter stating that Dr. Kenneth Howell has NOT been fired and continues to be the adjunct professor of religion and that he is looking into the matter and wants to be completely fair, that the media and others have misrepresented the case. etc...Maybe you should look into this again?

  • Posted by: Defender - Jul. 13, 2010 5:30 PM ET USA

    Maybe we can work out a trade: Dr. Howell for one of the non-Magisterium (aka: academic freedom) professors at BU, ND, CUA, etc!

  • Posted by: New Sister - Jul. 13, 2010 4:55 PM ET USA

    Why does no one mention that the Dalai Lama (whom these liberals just love) has stated the same thing about Natural Moral Law and homosexual acts?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2010 9:22 PM ET USA

    This reflects really poorly on the University of Illinois and its failure to promote academic freedom and the analysis and debate of ideas. Shame on the U of I. Now it's time for damage control. I think the best the U of I can do is to recognize it made an error of judgment, apologize to Dr. Howell, reinstate him, and clarify its support of the First Amendment.

  • Posted by: voxfem - Jul. 12, 2010 8:01 PM ET USA

    I guess standing by natural law is not contributing to the public discourse and promoting independent thought. Independent thought must be that everyone must agree with this student's opinion. And of course, public discourse can only have one side.

  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Jul. 12, 2010 7:22 PM ET USA

    So, if the Diocese of Peoria is really "concerned and very distressed", why didn't they go to bat for the prof and file a protest with UI, instead of joining the university in summarily firing him? With friends like that . . . Glad to hear ADF is stepping in to defend Dr Howell. Catholiphobia is a popular trend on so many campuses now, and we need to have 0 tolerance for this bias.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 12, 2010 5:25 PM ET USA

    Oh, the limits of inclusivity.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Jul. 12, 2010 4:25 PM ET USA

    But the tenets of this particular religion DO declare that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man, and he was teaching those tenets and contributing to public discourse by answering his students, so why was he fired? Furthermore, it is obvious that he WAS promoting independent thought; if he had agreed with the LGBT folks to keep his job, he would not have been thinking independently, but allowing his teaching to be dictated by others! Lastly, the reasoning of the diocese is not clear.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Jul. 12, 2010 4:21 PM ET USA

    I see the truth is still suffering.

  • Posted by: Defender - Jul. 12, 2010 2:29 PM ET USA

    I wonder if this couldn't happen in a Catholic college? Strange as it seems, the whole academic freedom vs The Magisterium issue is often raised. Now to see that a professor teaching the subject matter is successfully run off by a student, with the support of the dean of religion, for teaching the tenets of Catholicism is just too much (and the professor stated that he believes in what the Church teaches!). Where can one go to college today? Certainly not ND, CUA or BC.

  • Posted by: Defender - Jul. 12, 2010 2:22 PM ET USA

    This article touches on so many things...the instigator (who included a portion of an email from a friend) mentions that they were both raised Catholic. And they never heard about the Church's teaching on homosexuality? As much as I would like to think otherwise, this could be true: Catholic school and CCD teachers are uncomfortable with the subject - unfortunately, kids in middle school are beginning to form their opinions on the subject based on what they see on TV and from their friends.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jul. 12, 2010 12:51 PM ET USA

    “The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought...." but not if it diverges from political correctness. And the diocese went along with it? What's THAT all about?

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jul. 12, 2010 10:35 AM ET USA

    If the Chancellor is "so concerned and distressed" why did she pile on by firing Dr. Howell?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 12, 2010 8:12 AM ET USA

    One asks where the bishop of Peoria stands on all of this given the sheer amount of support that is building quickly for Professor Howell, as he was also the director of the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the university? Will his Excellency speak out against this kind of Stalinist purge?