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Kenneth Howell Firing Reviewed By University Of Illinois Faculty: Lecturer Fired For Saying Homosexual Acts Are 'Morally Wrong'

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The University of Illinois is now reviewing their firing of a professor who was removed after telling his class why the Catholic church believes that homosexuality violates natural moral law.

Kenneth Howell was explaining to his "Introduction to Catholicism" class where the church stands on homosexuality, and sent out a follow-up email to students after class--which reportedly circulated around the campus and prompted some students to complain, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The contents of the email were deemed "hate speech" by university administrators--which led to Howell's firing. Howell says the firing is a violation of his First Amendment rights, and now the case is being reviewed. The Tribune reports:

Chancellor Robert Easter has asked the University of Illinois' Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to determine whether the university violated the academic freedom of adjunct associate professor Kenneth Howell by barring him from teaching "Introduction to Catholicism" and "Modern Catholic Thought."

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Ann Mester, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said in an e-mail to faculty that Howell's statements "violate university standards of inclusivity." The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences houses the religious studies department.

While many news reports have focused on the seemingly harmless parts of Howell's email to students: "All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult" and "All I encourage is to make informed decisions," the full text of the email contains language that is much more questionable.

"Chillini," a Chicago Now blog for Illini fans, released and analyzed more of Howell's email Wednesday. From the email:

(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. 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.

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Homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted...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.

"After evaluating Howell's e-mail, it's clear to me the man proves that not only is religion as unnatural as homosexuality, but that is is also not real," writes Kyle Betts, a Chicago Tribune editorial assistant and blogger. "Seems like those are things a religious studies professor should try to avoid..."

Jordan Lorence, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based conservative legal consortium representing Howell, told the Tribune the university's decision was "quite shocking." From the Tribune:

Lorence said Howell's dismissal is one of an increasing number of cases where conservative professors have been penalized for ideological reasons.

"It's far too frequent that universities seem to be implying an ideological litmus test for their faculty members," Lorence said. "Rather than it be a true marketplace of ideas where diverse ideas are vigorously debated, there seems to be ... an orthodoxy that's imposed that one must espouse a certain view on marriage or they can't teach."

A student offended by the email, however, disagreed. In an email obtained by the News-Gazette, the student wrote:

Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one's worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.

The News-Gazette reported Thursday that Alliance Defense Fund attorneys sent a letter to school administrators asking that Howell be reinstated--and are threatening to sue the school if he is not.

Around the Web

Kenneth Howell - Department of Religion - University of Illinois

UI grad student protests dismissal of instructor of Catholicism | News-Gazette.com

U. of I. to review professor's removal over comments - Chicago Breaking News