Ill. prof. fired for teaching about Catholic beliefs in class on Catholicism

ADF urges restoration of Kenneth Howell's First Amendment rights, teaching position
Monday, July 12, 2010

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys sent a letter Monday to University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign officials on behalf of a popular, highly regarded professor who was fired for explaining the position of the Roman Catholic Church on human sexual behavior to members of his Introduction to Catholicism class.

“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 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.”

Dr. Kenneth Howell, who had been teaching at the university since 2001, was relieved of his duties based in part on an anonymous complaint sent via e-mail to university officials. The e-mail was sent by the friend of an anonymous student who claimed to be “offended” by a May 4 email Howell sent to students elaborating on a class discussion on Catholic beliefs about sexual behavior. The May 4 e-mail from Howell addressed a May 3 lecture in which he explained how the Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between same-sex attraction and homosexual conduct. He properly stated the church’s teaching that homosexual conduct is morally wrong, framing the issue in the context of natural moral law.

ADF attorneys see Howell’s case as part of an ominous trend on campus. Mike Adams’ ongoing suit against officials from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and June Sheldon’s lawsuit against officials from San Jose City College demonstrate that professors can be punished for merely expressing their viewpoint, and now, for even teaching the very material that is the subject of a class.

“The First Amendment protects the ability of faculty to speak freely, especially when the material is of direct relevance to the class,” added French. “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 is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.