Illinois Professor in Catholic Studies Fired After Student Objects That Teachings Constitute Hate Speech

There is an interesting controversy at the University of Illinois where the university has fired adjunct professor Dr. Kenneth Howell for teaching why homosexual acts violate natural moral law under the tenets of the Catholic church. Howell taught courses on the Catholic faith at the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. He was fired after a student labeled his statements “hate speech.”

In 2000, the University of Illinois’ Department of Religion incorporated Newman courses and Howell (who taught at Newman since 1998) became an adjunct professor. One of his classes, “Introduction to Catholicism,” includes what Howell described as “an explanation of Natural Moral Law as affirmed by the Church as well as an application of Natural Law Theory to a disputed social issue.” Homosexuality was one of the obvious subjects.

Here is how Howell described the statements that led to his firing. He reportedly summed up the position of the Church in the following way:

“A homosexual orientation is not morally wrong just as no moral guilt can be assigned to any inclination that a person has. However, based on natural moral law, the Church believes that homosexual acts are contrary to human nature and therefore morally wrong.”

He says that he sent an e-mail to students to try “to show them that under utilitarianism, homosexual acts would not be considered immoral whereas under natural moral law they would. This is because natural moral law, unlike utilitarianism, judges morality on the basis of the acts themselves.”

A complaint was filed by a student who was not enrolled in his class but insisted that he was writing on behalf of a student who wanted to remain anonymous.
The student objected that “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 school fired Howell who objected on first amendment and academic freedom grounds.
He was also later informed by Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, the Director of the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, that he was no longer needed at the Center.

It is a troubling case. Illinois should shoulder the burden in showing that academic freedom was not violated in this case. Frankly, I would be a bit concerned over incorporating classes from a religious center to begin with and I believe it is problematic to enlist religious organizations to teach courses on their faith for credit. Indeed, the student’s objection would seem as much to the course as to the professor. However, Illinois decided to offer a course on Catholic values. The question is whether the professor crossed the line between teaching the tenets and proselytizing for the faith. If the statements above were truly the cause for the action against the teacher, it would appear to violate the principles of academic freedom. We simply do not have enough information in the case.

The fact is that I have seen many university courses on feminism, race politics, and other subjects where the professors teach highly controversial views (which they are known to share). It is incumbent on Illinois to distinguish Newman (and his lectures) from those other professors to establish some objective basis for the termination. They may be able to do so, but the record so far is worrisome.

Source: CatholicNewsAgency.

69 thoughts on “Illinois Professor in Catholic Studies Fired After Student Objects That Teachings Constitute Hate Speech”

  1. I have been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be much more useful than ever before.

  2. The actual text of the email can be found at

    Is he bigoted? Yes. Is he promoting harm (usually the key provision for hate speech)? I don’t think so.

    What the text of the email reveals (and which is just as serious), however, is that Dr. Howell is not competent to be teaching the subject matter. His characterisation of utilitarianism and arguments against wouldn’t pass muster in even a first-year course, and he abandons the pretext of talking about utilitarianism after a couple of paragraphs to talk about bestiality, pedophilia, and NML. Clearly, utilitarianism was a pretext to preach his views. And that’s dodgy territory.

    He even admits that he’s not very knowledgeable about homosexuality, either. It’s therefore certainly ironic that he then tells his students that “Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions,” when he clearly doesn’t fit any of these criteria himself.

    For his incompetence, it is a good thing that his contract was not renewed (which is different from firing, as most media are reporting). Frankly, that sort of incompetence should be grounds for firing outright. He may be qualified to teach subjects pertaining to Catholicism, but when it comes to ethics/moral theory and homosexuality, this guy is far out of his depth. It would be like someone teaching quantum mechanics despite not having done any math since high school.

  3. W=C:

    Here’s a video version of that Dr. Kauffman’s “letter” from the “West Wing: Season Two:”

  4. W=c,

    I laughed and laughed. Good on Dr. Kauffman! “Dr.” Laura is the Queen of Bad Advice and the only person to ever make me actually scream “Are you fucking nuts!” at the radio.


    Since you’re busy, ask me again sometime about the Enlightenment as a response to religious oppression. With the ever increasing degree of religious oppression we are seeing in the world I’m sure the topic will come up again. Although I’ll tell you right now, mespo hit some of the high points in discussing the Inquisition (and quite well, you master of the classics you).

  5. Dear mespo,

    I have copied your post and pasted into Word so that I may read it away from my computer. It’s going to take me a couple of days as I am in the middle of researching the subject and have many documents to read … this is fun!

  6. From my ever growing collection of excellent e-mail plagelytizements;

    In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

    Dear Dr. Laura:

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination … End of debate.

    I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

    1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

    2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

    3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

    4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

    5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

    6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

    7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

    8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

    9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

    10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

    I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

    Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

    Your adoring fan,

    James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

    (It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian – I have dibs on Eric McCormack!)

  7. CCD:

    Ok, here’s my crazy comment about the application for certification of the Creation Research Graduate School:

    In any event, I agree this was not hate speech at all. Maybe some over the top proselytizing, but can’t a rational mind take a little intellectual challenge – even a rational mind in utero? Fire the guy? Not me – calling him out works better and is educational.

  8. Blouise:

    “Boy, I wish Buddha or mespo would have commented in depth on that … .”


    Sorry for being MIA. I’ve just finished representation in two day- long mediations and served as arbitrator in another case on the following day. It’s been “trying” (pardon the sad pun). In any event, I think there is ample support for the proposition that, “The Enlightenment was in large part a reaction to the oppression of Christianity in the Western world.” The Enlightenment, or more properly in this context, the “French Enlightenment,” started with a philosophical rebellion against the religious intolerance and superstition of the Dark Ages. The Church was the prime beneficiary of institutionalized ignorance as it kept a destitute and disease ridden population in check and tithe/indulgence paying.

    With men like Voltaire, Diderot, and Montesquieu leading the intellectual counter-charge, the Church stood little chance since, philosophically, the Church had calcified its intellectual growth hundreds of years before during the Inquisition. The resentment and astonishment of that senseless purge was central to the thinking of this cadre of French philosophers seeking reason over religion:

    The inquisitor responds, “There is a difference between your example and our practice. For us, it is a matter of the health of your soul. It is for your good that the director of the Inquisition ordains that you be seized on the testimony of a single person, however infamous or criminal that person might be; that you will have no advocate to defend you; that the name of your accuser will not even be known by you; that the inquisitor can promise you mercy, and immediately condemn you; that five different tortures will be applied to you, and then you will be flogged, or sent to the galleys, or ceremoniously burned. Father Ivonet, Doctor Cuchalon, Zanchinus, Campegius, Roias, Felynus, Gomarus, Diabarus, Gemelinus, are explicit on this point, and this pious practice cannot suffer any contradiction.”

    I would take the liberty to respond, “My brother, perhaps you are reasonable; I am convinced that you wish to do me good; but could I not be saved without all that?”

    It is true that these absurd horrors do not stain the face of the earth every day; but they are frequent, and they could easily fill a volume much greater than the gospels which condemn them. (10) Not only is it extremely cruel to persecute in this brief life those who do not think the way we do, but I do not know if it might be too presumptuous to declare their eternal damnation. It seems to me that it does not pertain to the atoms of the moment, such as we are, to anticipate the decrees of the Creator.

    ~ Voltaire, Treatise on Toleration (1763)

    Here is this format: the accused never confront their accusers, and there is no informant who is not heard; a criminal shamed by justice, a child, a courtesan, these are [considered to be] serious accusers. The son may testify against his father, the wife against her husband, a brother against his brother; the accused must in the end become his own prosecutor, guessing, and confessing the crime he is supposed to have committed and of which he is often ignorant. This hitherto unheard-of procedure, maintained up to the present day, made Spain tremble. Distrust took hold of every spirit; there were no more friends, no more community; brother feared his brother, father his son, wife her husband; thus silence became the defining characteristic of a nation born with all the natural vivacity of a warm and fertile climate; the cleverest quickly became the inquisition ’s constables, known as its familiars, preferring to be in its orbit rather than exposed to its torments.

    The establishment of this tribunal must also be attributed to that profound ignorance of salutary philosophy, in which Spain still remains plunged while Germany, the North, England, France, Holland, and even Italy have discovered so many truths, and have expanded the sphere of our knowledge. Descartes philosophized freely in his retirement in Holland, while the great Galileo at the age of 80 languished in the prisons of the inquisition , for having discovered the movement of the earth. Human nature is never so vile as when ignorance is armed with power; but these sad effects of the inquisition are but little compared to those public sacrifices known as auto-da fé , acts of faith, and the horrors which precede them.

    It is a priest in his surplice; [or] it is a monk vowed to charity and kindness, who in vast and deep dungeons applies the cruelest of tortures to men. Then it is to a theatre set up in a public square, that all the condemned are led to the stake following a procession of monks and confraternities. They sing, they say mass, and they kill men. An asiatic arriving in Madrid on the day of such an execution would not be able to tell whether it was a celebration, a religious ceremony, a sacrifice or a slaughterhouse; and it is all of these together. Kings, whose mere presence elsewhere suffices to grant mercy to a criminal, attend this spectacle on a throne less elevated than that of the inquisitor, and see their own subjects perish in the flames. Montezuma was reproached for making burnt offerings of captives to his gods; what would he have said if he had seen an auto-da fé ?

    These executions are today less common than before; but reason, which shines through with such difficulty when fanaticism is on the throne, has not yet been able to abolish them.

    ~Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert (Inquistion)

    The laws should “require from the several religions, not only that they shall not embroil the state, but that they shall not raise disturbances among themselves” (SL 25.9). While one can try to persuade people to change religions by offering them positive inducements to do so, attempts to force others to convert are ineffective and inhumane. In an unusually scathing passage, Montesquieu also argues that they are unworthy of Christianity, and writes: “if anyone in times to come shall dare to assert, that in the age in which we live, the people of Europe were civilized, you (the Inquisition) will be cited to prove that they were barbarians; and the idea they will have of you will be such as will dishonor your age, and spread hatred over all your contemporaries.

    ~Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Baron de Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat (published 2003, revised 2010).

    No less the Church’s most lucid and eloquent apologist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, admitted the folly that was the Inquisition, and the true motivation of the Church:

    “Judge Thyself who was right — Thou or he who questioned Thee then? Remember the first question; its meaning, in other words, was this: “Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread — for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. But seest Thou these stones in this parched and barren wilderness? Turn them into bread, and mankind will run after Thee like a flock of sheep, grateful and obedient, though for ever trembling, lest Thou withdraw Thy hand and deny them Thy bread.” But Thou wouldst not deprive man of freedom and didst reject the offer, thinking, what is that freedom worth if obedience is bought with bread? Thou didst reply that man lives not by bread alone. But dost Thou know that for the sake of that earthly bread the spirit of the earth will rise up against Thee and will strive with Thee and overcome Thee, and all will follow him, crying, “Who can compare with this beast? He has given us fire from heaven!” Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!” that’s what they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished, yet Thou mightest have prevented that new tower and have cut short the sufferings of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower. They will seek us again, hidden underground in the catacombs, for we shall be again persecuted and tortured. They will find us and cry to us, “Feed us, for those who have promised us fire from heaven haven’t given it!” And then we shall finish building their tower, for he finishes the building who feeds them. And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man? And if for the sake of the bread of Heaven thousands shall follow Thee, what is to become of the millions and tens of thousands of millions of creatures who will not have the strength to forego the earthly bread for the sake of the heavenly? Or dost Thou care only for the tens of thousands of the great and strong, while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee, must exist only for the sake of the great and strong? No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them- so awful it will seem to them to be free. But we shall tell them that we are Thy servants and rule them in Thy name. We shall deceive them again, for we will not let Thee come to us again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

    (“The Grand Inquisitor” parable from the novel, The Brothers Karamozov. The Grand Inquisitor speaks to the risen, but silent, Jesus)

    How’s that to get the ball rolling?

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