OXFORD, England, January 9, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A leading Catholic moral theologian and natural law expert is facing a campaign from college students to oust him from a faculty position for his purported “extremely discriminatory views against groups of disadvantaged people” and for “being particularly homophobic and transphobic.”
A petition for John Finnis to be removed from his academic position at Oxford University cites his “discriminatory conduct.”
The petition lists “hateful statements” from Finnis regarding homosexuality made between 1992 and 2011, and also accuses him of racism and xenophobia.
Finnis, a renowned legal philosopher, jurist and scholar, is an emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy at the University of Oxford and Biolchini Family Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame.
He has mentored several Ph.D students, including Neil Gorsuch and Robert P. George.
The petition looking to expel him from Oxford also asks the university to clarify its policy on “discriminatory professors.”
It says Finnis teaching Oxford's compulsory main graduate law courses for its Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) and Magister Juris (MJur) degrees is “unacceptable” because “It puts a hugely prejudiced man in a position of responsibility and authority.”
“It makes people who are affected by his discrimination question whether they should even attend these seminars,” the petition states. “University is a place to focus on education, not to be forced to campaign against or to be taught by professors who have promoted hatred towards students that they teach.”
Finnis has written critically of homosexual conduct, describing it at times as evil or destructive.
Petitioners also cite his writing in opposition to adoption by same-sex couples and in support of reparative therapy.
“John Finnis has built a career on demonization,” BCL student and petition co-author Alex Benn told The Oxford Student publication. “His so-called ‘arguments’ about disadvantaged people are hateful, not to mention widely discredited.”
“His position at Oxford ignores his decades-long promotion of discrimination and, in particular, his active role in worsening the lives of LGBTQ+ people,” added Benn.
A number of academics responded in support of Finnis on social media soon after news of the petition surfaced. “John Finnis of Oxford is one of the most famous Christian professors alive,” tweeted Israeli philosopher, Biblical scholar and conservative political theorist Yoram Hazony. “Now a move to ban him from teaching because he has opposed homosexual acts in philosophical essays.”
John Finnis of Oxford is one of the most famous Christian professors alive. Now a move to ban him from teaching because he has opposed homosexual acts in philosophical essays. https://t.co/zPBjhS1vVH
— Yoram Hazony (@yhazony) January 8, 2019
“The harassment of the incredible Professor Finnis at Oxford is yet another sign that faithful Catholic colleges are among the last bastions of truth and authentic freedom,” Cardinal Newman Society president and founder Patrick Reilly said. “Isn’t that how universities began?”
“John Finnis hardly deserves to be run out of Oxford!” Reilly later tweeted. “But if he goes, I pray that he lands at a faithful Catholic college, one that embraces Bl. John Henry Newman's “Idea of a University” — the “Oxford improvement” plan!”
The harassment of the incredible Professor Finnis at Oxford is yet another sign that faithful Catholic colleges are among the last bastions of truth and authentic freedom. Isn’t that how universities began? #NewmanGuide @Newman_Society
— Patrick Reilly (@NewmanSocPres) January 8, 2019
John Finnis hardly deserves to be run out of Oxford! But if he goes, I pray that he lands at a faithful Catholic college, one that embraces Bl. John Henry Newman's “Idea of a University” — the “Oxford improvement” plan! @Newman_Society https://t.co/Bj9rogkeyp
— Patrick Reilly (@NewmanSocPres) January 8, 2019
“Those trying to get Professor Finnis sacked would be better advised to engage rationally with his ideas,” said King's College London professor of politics, philosophy and law John Tasioulas. “It’s only respectful, and they may even learn something.”
Those trying to get Professor Finnis sacked would be better advised to engage rationally with his ideas. It’s only respectful, and they may even learn something. https://t.co/pKrKhyJcnM
— John Tasioulas (@JTasioulas) January 8, 2019
Acton Institute research director Samuel Gregg said, “This is what we have come to: one of the giants of legal philosophy in our time, John Finnis (full disclosure, he supervised my doctorate), is being subject to ideological harassment for his REASON-BASED classic natural law views about sexual morality.
This is what we have come to: one of the giants of legal philosophy in our time, John Finnis (full disclosure, he supervised my doctorate), is being subject to ideological harassment for his REASON-BASED classic natural law views about sexual morality. https://t.co/M2mYXemHlF
— Samuel Gregg (@DrSamuelGregg) January 8, 2019
Ryan T. Anderson, Heritage Foundation senior fellow and Public Discourse founder, said:
Funniest thing on the web today. Oxford students are upset that an Oxford Professor wrote essays in books published by Oxford University Press making arguments that they disagree with. They call on the University to remove the professor. https://t.co/KxhyIoCc39
— Ryan T. Anderson (@RyanTAnd) January 8, 2019
Catholic University of America professor of theological, social and political thought Chad Pecknold said:
I have sometimes disagreed with Professor Finnis. That’s part and parcel of higher education. But the desire to ban him for a disagreement over what all of Western civilization has believed about sex for millennia is literally insane. https://t.co/gEViQUb5k1
— C. C. Pecknold (@ccpecknold) January 8, 2019
The university issued a statement in support of inclusivity and academic freedom, ostensibly standing by Finnis.
A representative for the university said: “Oxford University and the Faculty of Law promote an inclusive culture which respects the rights and dignity of all staff and students. We are clear we do not tolerate any form of harassment of individuals on any grounds, including sexual orientation. Equally, the university’s harassment policy also protects academic freedom of speech and is clear that vigorous academic debate does not amount to harassment when conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others. All of the university’s teaching activity, including that in the faculty of law, is conducted according to these principles.”
Finnis said the petition misrepresents his views, and he disputes its accuracy.
“The petition travesties my position, and my testimony in American constitutional litigation,” he told The Oxford Student. “Anyone who consults the law faculty website and follows the links in the petition can see the petition’s many errors.”
“I stand by all these writings,” continued Finnis. “There is not a ‘phobic’ sentence in them. The 1994 essay promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts and has been re-published many times, most recently by Oxford University Press in the third volume of my Collected Essays.”
Finnis is a former member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who from 1986 to 1991 was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s International Theological Commission.
In 2016, Finnis, who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1962, co-authored a letter to Pope Francis along with the late Germain Grisez, professor of Christian ethics at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, asking the pope to renounce eight errant positions that “find support in statements by or omissions” in Amoris Laetitia and “are or include errors against the Catholic faith.”