Catholic Church | Illinois | Religion

School Fires Professor For Personal Views on Gays

The University of Illinois has fired one of its professors after a complaint from a student who claims that the teacher spewed hate speech. Ken Howell, who made it clear that he himself was Catholic, taught "Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought" at the public institution.

Kenneth It was an e-mail Howell sent to his students about Natural Moral Law (NML) that led to the administration's decision to let him go. The anonymous student who complained wrote to them with this criticism: "Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another."

According to school officials, "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."

A portion of Howell's e-mail:

"NML 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. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed."

And another excerpt where Howell expresses his belief that gay sex is "injurious" to the human body:

"To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the 'woman' while the other acts as the 'man.' In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body."

Howell went on to write that "Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality."

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal defense organization, will apparently represent Howell.

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  1. "'s professors"?

    "It's" means "it is."

    The word you need in this sentence is "its."

    Really -- this shit is taught in fourth grade.

    Posted by: kirby | Jul 10, 2010 10:39:49 AM

  2. He is a professor of religion professing what he believes. What is wrong with that and/or not in accordance with our constitution and bill of rights? Seems like another PC witch hunt to me.

    Be careful for what you wish for!

    Posted by: Cassandra | Jul 10, 2010 10:48:28 AM

  3. What he personally believes is not the students damn business!!


    Separation Of church And State!!!

    Posted by: Roseann | Jul 10, 2010 11:00:51 AM

  4. Why are you posting on this board, cunt?

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 10, 2010 11:01:10 AM

  5. "I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men."

    ... I can hear that conversation now. "Doc, I have 'a friend' that... "

    Either that or the poor guy was probably molested as a youngster and has unresolved issues.

    Posted by: jexer | Jul 10, 2010 11:01:10 AM

  6. Because keeping your head up your ass is what God made it for.

    Posted by: stranded | Jul 10, 2010 11:05:17 AM

  7. Cassandra--Religion departments in public institutions are designed to teach what the theology and history of the churches are. They are not supposed to be proselytizing. In other words, the object is not to win disciples to the religion or to argue the points of view of the religion, but to explicate and clarify the views of that faith.

    When a faculty member crosses that line, he or she has broken the trust he has with his college to be objective in teaching. The place for what this gentleman did is in a divinity school or seminary somewhere, not the University of Illinois.

    Furthermore, most public universities have policies protecting against discriminatory attacks on minorities, including GLBT. It could be argued that the preaching (which is what this was) of the faculty member was inflammatory and discriminatory; ergo, contrary to university policy.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Jul 10, 2010 11:05:27 AM

  8. Oh, up yours, Cassandra. The fact is that it's a class ABOUT religion -- which is what makes the topic itself beyond inappropriate. If this homophobic professor is that obsessed with gay sex, this is the sort of thing his students can debate. But the professor is supposed to be professing ABOUT Catholicism -- not telling students they might be "violating natural law."

    Posted by: Robert | Jul 10, 2010 11:06:41 AM

  9. One other point: this guy could have very, very easily avoided this situation. All he had to do was say, "The Catholic hierarchy contends that homosexuality is injurious because..." That would have fully protected him and his "free speech." The guy was a fool.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Jul 10, 2010 11:09:40 AM

  10. Good riddance!

    Personal beliefs are one thing, putting them out as facts and advocating it to your students and the campus at large is another thing completely.

    Posted by: ravewulf | Jul 10, 2010 11:12:29 AM

  11. To those who want to debate this or refute this on the grounds of academic freedom or first amendment rights. Please keep in mind that at all universities, the students safety and wellbeing come first. This also includes any anti-discrimination rules this university holds.

    Mr. Howell was hired to teach Catholicism but he also agreed to uphold the policies of the school. If he felt his rights were being violated he should have taken it up with the school first or seek employment elsewhere.

    Posted by: Bob | Jul 10, 2010 11:12:36 AM

  12. @Cassandra-

    He was hired to teach, not to preach.

    It's inappropriate for staff/faculty at a state run university to impose their religious beliefs on anyone. That path gets uncomfortably close to 'state sponsored religion'.

    We don't want to turn into Iran now do we? ;)

    Posted by: jexer | Jul 10, 2010 11:13:49 AM

  13. "Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality," Howell wrote.

    To reach conclusions about the natural world, Roman Catholics rely on Thomas Aquinas, the founder of natural law theory and a 13th century philosopher who thought that species like a half-man half-ox once existed and that life could spontaneously generate. Aquinas knew nothing about genetics, evolution, or biology, but, hey, let's use his views to inform ourselves about the natural world.

    In keeping with this practice, I think proponents of natural law theory should call a dentist if their house is on fire and see an auto mechanic if they are feeling sick because if you have a problem you need help from someone who knows absolutely nothing about it.

    Posted by: Thomas who? | Jul 10, 2010 11:17:35 AM

  14. "Natural law" = "My opinion, dressed up as something authoritative." The Catholic church has been getting away with pretending its superstitions and prejudices are more than just that by claiming they are "natural law" for centuries. It's so heartening that people are finally beginning to see through it--and ACTING to put an end to it. (Along with so much other Catholic villainy.)

    Posted by: jomicur | Jul 10, 2010 11:18:15 AM

  15. He's an adjunct professor, and at most colleges adjuncts are "at will" employees. They can be fired at any time for any reason.

    Regardless, the man is clearly ill informed. Homosexual behavior is "natural" and has been observed among a vast majority of mammals and other families of species.

    Further, one plays the "man" and one plays the "woman" is his allusion to anal sex. Many gay male couples include anal as part of their sexual repertoires and for some it is not even the main sexual activity they engage in.

    Posted by: qjersey | Jul 10, 2010 11:18:45 AM

  16. As an anthropologist that studies religion, the thing I found the most interesting here was his (totally fallacious) claim that somehow the moral positions of Catholics were not based on their religion but rather on "reality". This statement alone shows this guy is nothing more than a hack mouthpiece for conservative Catholicism in the guise of academic objectivity. Sadly, there are many, many others like him hiding in Theology departments all over this country.

    Posted by: humanzee | Jul 10, 2010 11:24:09 AM

  17. Wish I was in his class when he spewed such nonsense. I would have put him in his place VERY ALOUD. I have been known to challenge Professors in college for which they hated me for. The fools think achieving tenure means being handed dictatorial powers.

    Posted by: SSCHIEFRSHA | Jul 10, 2010 11:24:18 AM

  18. To add to the discussion, isn't it amazing that a purported scholar at the UofI is willing to argue the truth of Catholic theology on the basis of an offhand discussion with some unnamed physician! What the hell kind of academic is this guy?

    If everyone taught courses on the basis of "Some guy told me such-and-such," why do we have degree programs. What kind of expertise is this? I am certain I can find a doctor that will tell me that heterosexual sex can be damaging to some women's vaginas. I know that it can! So what? Does that in some way make heterosexuality contrary to soem imaginary natural law.

    Not only is this crackpot a bigot, he is an intellectual midget.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Jul 10, 2010 11:26:46 AM

  19. so... this means catholics don't butt fuck?

    Posted by: tc | Jul 10, 2010 11:30:22 AM

  20. The comments by "Cadideinnc" and "Jomicur" were the best, completely on point (IMHO).
    Given that its a state-affiliated university, if the professor would have just avoided the inflammatory sexual innuendo and avoided using a style that comes across as outright religious partisan advocacy, he would have stayed on the right side of the line. If he wants to conduct himself as a out-and out-shill for the (not so) Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, then let him go teach at one of the many Catholic colleges.

    Posted by: Hunter | Jul 10, 2010 11:32:00 AM

  21. I visit this blog every day and have nothing but respect for the writers, but really, that headline borders on yellow journalism. "School Fires Professor for Personal Views on Gays" is something I would expect to read on a conservative news website, especially because it isn't even true. The minute a professor sends an email to his students regarding his class, his views cease to be personal. What the hell?

    The headline makes it seems as though Towleroad supports the professor. Honestly, if he had kept his personal views to himself, or even expressed them to people who were not his students, I would have a problem with the violation of free speech, but sending an email like this to your students is really inexcusable.

    Posted by: Zell | Jul 10, 2010 11:37:59 AM

  22. "The Catholic church has been getting away with pretending its superstitions and prejudices are more than just that by claiming they are 'natural law' for centuries."

    Thank you, Jomicur.

    Just to drive home the point. Steve Pep has now posted a story about homosexuality in a bird species. That would be the natural world talking back to proponents of natural law theory and I think the natural world is telling them to shut the fuck up.

    Posted by: Thomas who? | Jul 10, 2010 11:47:46 AM

  23. The homophobes are constantly upping the ante. Remember how many millions were spent on Proposition 8. It is inspiring to hear about an institution like the University of Illinois taking decisive action against those who would use positions of trust to promote the homophobe agenda.

    BRAVO U of I!

    Posted by: Fahd | Jul 10, 2010 11:52:17 AM

  24. Having read the entire e-mail, I see now that this is hitting in a gray area since the e-mail specifically stated that it was an extension of an in-class discussion. HOWEVER, as Humanzee pointed out, it is full of fallacious claims without opportunity to debate the claims, nor was any indication given that the professor was playing devil's advocate so as to prompt debate.

    U of I, therefore, can also claim (aside from obvious personal bias passed off as "lecture notes") that he did not come up to their expected standard of excellence in teaching and can easily defend that position, especially against ADF's dogmatic "freedom of religion" bs.

    Posted by: AggieCowboy | Jul 10, 2010 11:52:36 AM

  25. He crossed the line to be sure, that doesn't mean that the University's response was proportionate or appropriate. He was confusing his job (to teach about Catholicism) with his personal beliefs as a Catholic. This is unprofessional, but it's an easy mistake to make and not at all uncommon: think of liberal professors of political science. How many of them rigidly separate their subject matter from their political beliefs? Still, it's a mistake and this professor should have been warned and put on probation. But, unless this is just one instance of an ongoing pattern, the school overreacted.

    Posted by: Kurt | Jul 10, 2010 12:06:33 PM

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