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.


  1. kirby says

    “…it’s professors”?

    “It’s” means “it is.”

    The word you need in this sentence is “its.”

    Really — this shit is taught in fourth grade.

  2. Cassandra says

    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!

  3. jexer says

    “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.

  4. candideinnc says

    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.

  5. Robert says

    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.”

  6. candideinnc says

    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.

  7. ravewulf says

    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.

  8. Bob says

    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.

  9. jexer says


    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? 😉

  10. Thomas who? says

    “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.

  11. jomicur says

    “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.)

  12. qjersey says

    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.

  13. humanzee says

    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.

  14. SSCHIEFRSHA says

    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.

  15. candideinnc says

    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.

  16. Hunter says

    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.

  17. Zell says

    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.

  18. Thomas who? says

    “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.

  19. Fahd says

    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!

  20. AggieCowboy says

    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.

  21. Kurt says

    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.

  22. candideinnc says

    Kurt–Perhaps, if the issues in discussion didn’t cross over into matters of discrimination, you might be able to defend the man’s actions with your argument. What this guy did, though, was not only proseletyze, but also to make a direct attack on a minority group. If a member of the minority group is in the class, this is equivalent to a personal attack by someone given authority by the University. It is an unjustifiable and indefensible action by the teacher.

    It is easier to recognize the fallacy of your proposition if you were to imagine the man had argued about the racial inferiority of blacks on the basis of biblical teaching. There is really no difference between that and what he taught regarding gays.

  23. says

    The confounding point is that the man is a Catholic, and therefor, an accomplice to hundreds of thousands if not millions of child molestation cases. I say again, if there were justice in this world, we would simply start arresting Catholics as they leave mass for allowing the continued abuse of children by priests all the way up to the pope (no capitals; he’s not worthy). How does this continued abuse — certainly outside of this jackass’ “natural moral law” — not demand action?

    The Catholic church and Catholics in general have surrendered any claim they had to judge anyone based on their supposed “moral” beliefs. And any Catholic who continues to support the Church, and that includes even attending a single service, should be held to account for condoning and support of child rape.

  24. BoxerDad says

    I am always bemused by references to “natural law” and the nature of male and female plumbing to defend homophobia. Those folks simply don’t understand that – without getting too graphic myself – things fit together perfectly well, thank you very much.

  25. TANK says

    Natural law in the christian tradition really has nothing to do with nature. Whenever you’re dealing with someone who relies on natural law theory and a law giver (a supernatural consciousness), you’re not dealing with a brute fact.

    Tommy didn’t know anything about genetics and evolution, but if you’ve ever read the big summa, he wasn’t stupid. Anyone that can understand Aristotle (who also didn’t know anything about the modern conception of man, but remains one of the greatest minds in history and is still relevant today) as well as tommy did can’t be dumb. I don’t suggest reading the summa theologica unless you’ve got time to waste and are a masochist.

    This guy’s a douchebag, and I’m glad he was fired…this isn’t about free speech at all. It would be akin to teacher talking about his personal views on the “inferiority of the other races” during classtime.

  26. TANK says

    I once had a anthropology teacher a waaay back in undergrad who started to talk about the purpose of marriage. He stated that anyone who didn’t understand that its purpose was to have kids was confused…he was not a smart man, but was extensively published and went to harvard… Ya know when some nutter has the attention of a group and starts to say things that are completely crazy wackadoodledoo crazypants, but it’s totally unexpected…and the group is a little shocked and slow to condemn (that can actually be funny)…wasn’t that flagrant, though.

  27. Boston Doc says

    This is a hypocritical viewpoint. If we take him at his word, then all human behaviors “harmful to the human body” should be considered immoral. Such as:
    eating non-organic food
    drinking soda and high fructose beverages
    driving a car (pollution)
    living in a city
    drinking city water
    taking medicine
    eating a food additive/color
    dry cleaning
    and on and on…
    All of these acts injure us on some level, the only way to avoid any physical damage to the body is not to exist at all.

  28. sparks says

    “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.”

    What the ex-professor is neglecting to consider is how much variance there is between members of each sex. The REALITY is that physically, a man who’s 6’3″ tall would seem to be entirely UNcomplimentary to a woman who’s 5’0″ … but I see tall guys with short girls all the time. (And tall women with shorter men.)

    The REALITY is that much more complimentary than the above pair would be a 6’3″ man and a 6’1″ man.

    Furthermore, Howell seems to be hung up on the specific positioning of homosexual sex, which he assumes to be anal. Again he is neglectful in his thinking, not only because a lot of gay people have sexual contact without engaging in acts he deems injurious; but also, because heterosexuals ALSO engage in anal intercourse and other acts he calls deleterious to health.

  29. justiceontherocks says

    I’m not sure he should be fired for making dumb remarks about gay sex, but CLEARLY he lacks the judgment one would ask of a college instructor. Goodbye, thanks for playing.

  30. dizzy spins says

    Whats more concerning than this guys homophobia are his weak critical-thinking skills. If he’s going to say his view is based on natural reality (i.e. science) then he can’t say things “to the best of my man is the ‘woman.'” I mean, where did he get that data–a bathroom wall?

    Im a gay man and Im not big into anal sex (which is true for MANY of us). Since my hands, mouth and other body parts are as compatible as a woman’s, does that mean my homosexuality does make sense according to “natural moral law”

    And, hello, what the hell is natural moral law? Its b.s. faux-science that religious nuts use to make people think they’re thinking logically. This is not a guy who should be in the classroom!

  31. ChrisM says

    He didn’t want to be “too graphic”? He is an adult teaching adults and, if he honestly believe the BS he’s teaching, he has a responsibility to be as graphic as necessary to get his point across. The problem here seems to be a professor who is so personally disgusted by the material that he is unable to present it in an objective and professional manner. Sounds like sexual immaturity.

    So I’ll give him a hand. What he’s trying to describe is anal sex, the entry of a penis into the anus, and it is absolutely positively NOT exclusive among gay couples. Many heterosexual couples practice anal sex, many young religious terrified straight teen couples practice anal sex thinking they are maintaining their purity and abstinence pledge and, of course many Catholic priests practice anal sex but that’s a totally different issue.

  32. Real Deal says

    That professor shouldnt have been fired, he is 110% right. Its not acceptable to be a faggot in society. No one enjoys watching that disgusting activity and men were not made to penetrate other men, these fags try carrying on like they are normal and should be treated that way, well when you start banging women maybe we can forgot about all those men you slept with. Com’on people! If you really have to be gay, keep it in the closet, dont come out and be upset when people dont accept your choice, which is a rebellion against nature, and a rebellion against god. I cannot believe the thought of gay marriage is even being considered, that is totally rediculous!

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