— The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana confirmed to Alliance Defense Fund attorneys Thursday that it will once again allow popular professor Dr. Kenneth Howell to teach on Catholicism after recently firing him for explaining the Roman Catholic Church’s position on human sexual behavior to members of his class.
ADF attorneys representing Howell sent a letter to university officials on July 12 explaining that the university’s actions violated his rights protected by the First Amendment and asked that he be reinstated.
“A university cannot censor professors’ speech--including classroom speech related to the topic of the class--merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student. We greatly appreciate the university’s move to put Professor Howell back in the classroom, but we will be watching carefully to make sure that his academic freedom is protected throughout the university’s ongoing process,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French.
A letter from the University of Illinois Office of University Counsel admits no wrongdoing on the part of the university but states, “The School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics will be contacting Dr. Howell to offer him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism, on a visiting instructional appointment at the University of Illinois, for the fall 2010 semester. Dr. Howell will be appointed and paid by the University for this adjunct teaching assignment.”
The letter then adds that a university committee will continue its investigation of Howell’s situation.
Howell, who had been teaching at the university since 2001, was relieved of his teaching 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 e-mail Howell sent to students elaborating on a class discussion concerning 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 accurately stated the church’s teaching that homosexual conduct is morally wrong, framing the issue in the context of natural moral law.
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.