Monday July 12, 2010

U. of Illinois Fires Catholic Prof for Explaining Church Teaching on Homosexuality

By Kathleen Gilbert

URBANA, Illinois, July 12, 2010 ( – A Catholic professor has been fired from the University of Illinois for sending an email to students in a course on Catholic doctrine, explaining how homosexual activity is contrary to the natural moral law.

Kenneth Howell of Champaign, IL, also lost his job with the diocese of Peoria at the Newman center on campus, where he had been employed for 12 years, after university officials confronted Howell about the email.

Howell had taught “Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought” at the university’s Department of Religion since 2001.

In an account posted by, Howell says that although students in the course have often disagreed with Catholic teaching in the past, in Spring 2010 he “noticed the most vociferous reaction that I have ever had” regarding the Catholic teaching against homosexuality as morally wrong.

“It seemed out of proportion to all that I had known thus far,” he wrote. This, he said, spurred him to send an email explaining “how this issue might be decided within competing moral systems,” contrasting utilitarianism and natural moral law.

“If we take utilitarianism to be a kind of cost-benefit analysis, I tried to show them that under utilitarianism, homosexual acts would not be considered immoral whereas under natural moral law they would,” he wrote. “This is because natural moral law, unlike utilitarianism, judges morality on the basis of the acts themselves.”

In the email, as quoted by the Associated Press, Howell had written: “Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

After the end of the semester, Howell says he was summoned to the office of Robert McKim, chairman of the Department of Religion, where he was told his email had been forwarded to the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns, and that he would no longer be able to teach at the university. Despite discussion of the email’s contents, said Howell, McKim “was quite insistent that my days of teaching in the department were over.”

Howell offered not to address the subject of homosexuality in class, and “averred that to dismiss me for teaching the Catholic position in a class on Catholicism was a violation of academic freedom and my first amendment rights of free speech. This made no difference.”

Because the diocese of Peoria reportedly only permits university professors to teach at the campus Newman center, Howell lost his position there as well. Howell is now pursuing legal action with an Alliance Defense Fund attorney.

Initial attempts to contact the Diocese of Peoria and the University of Illinois have been unsuccessful as of press time. Dr. Howell declined to comment before speaking with his lawyer.

The case, while extraordinary in the United States, has been foreshadowed by similar discrimination in Canada and elsewhere. Dr. Chris Kempling, a teacher in British Columbia, was cited for professional misconduct and his license suspended after writing letters to a local newspaper explaining Christian belief on homosexuality. Kempling fought the charges all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court, where his appeal was denied – leaving him with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

ADF attorneys see Howell’s case as part of an ominous trend on college campuses.

“A university cannot censor professors’ speech – including classroom speech related to the topic of the class – merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student,” said Howell’s attorney, ADF Senior Counsel David French. “To fire a professor for teaching the actual subject matter of his course is outrageous. It’s ridiculous that a school would fire a professor without even giving him a chance to defend himself when he simply taught Catholic beliefs in a class about Catholic beliefs.”