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Professor Removed for Teaching Catholicism in a Class on … Catholicism

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

For Christian professors in today’s university setting, that line between what you have to do to do your job and what you have to do to lose your job is getting thinner and thinner. For Dr. Kenneth Howell at the University of Illinois, the line just vanished completely.

For the last nine years, Dr. Howell has been teaching courses on Roman Catholicism as an adjunct professor in the school’s Department of Religion. An outstanding teacher, the university itself has recognized his teaching excellence for six of the last nine years, including in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

All that came to an abrupt end a few weeks ago when, as part of his “Introduction to Roman Catholicism” course, Dr. Howell correctly explained the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexual behavior, i.e., that homosexual conduct is morally wrong, as set forth in the Catechism of the Church. He took care to explain the difference between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior, and to frame the position in the context of natural moral law and Scripture. Later, he followed up his remarks with an e-mail to the students in the class further clarifying some of the points he’d made.

Shortly afterward, university officials received an anonymous e-mail complaint from a student who was not even in Dr. Howell’s class, who claimed to have been “offended” by what Howell said. Howell was never even given the chance to explain or defend what he’d said. Instead, he was summarily relieved from his teaching duties and dismissed from his teaching position.

On July 12, ADF lawyers sent a letter to the university on Dr. Howell’s behalf.

“A university cannot censor professors’ speech – including classroom speech related to the topic of the class – merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student,” says ADF Senior Counsel David French. “To fire a professor for teaching the actual subject matter of his course is outrageous. It’s ridiculous that a school would fire a professor without even giving him a chance to defend himself when he simply taught Catholic beliefs in a class about Catholic beliefs.

“The First Amendment protects the ability of faculty to speak freely, especially when the material is of direct relevance to the class,” he says. “Professors’ careers cannot be made to stand or fall based on the emotions of intolerant, anonymous students who do not yet understand that opposing viewpoints exist within a free society.”

Dr. Howell’s case would be upsetting enough if it were an isolated incident. It’s not. More and more Christian professors across the country are finding themselves censured, discredited, penalized, and persecuted for simply teaching their subjects according to their best academic judgment, or even just for sharing their personal opinion in private conversations.??Please be in prayer for Dr. Howell and for all those facing persecution by a university culture so hostile to Christians and Christian beliefs.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.


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