A professor who was recently fired for explaining the Catholic teaching on homosexuality will be reinstated, according to the University of Illinois. Dr. Kenneth Howell's position at the school was terminated at the end of the Spring Semester this year after teaching in a class on Catholicism that the Church believes homosexual behavior violates natural law.
A Thursday letter from the University of Illinois Office of University Counsel told Howell’s lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) that “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.”
Howell had been teaching at the university since 2001 and consistently gained high approval ratings on student evaluations. In a class on Catholicism last spring, he followed up a classroom discussion with an e-mail contrasting the ways in which utilitarianism and natural law theory would each determine the morality of homosexual conduct.
A student complained that Howell's words were “hate speech” in an e-mail to the head of the department, Dr. Robert McKim. Howell was called into McKim's office at the end of the semester and told that he would no longer be allowed to teach for the university because his e-mail had “violate[d] university standards of inclusivity.”
In Howell's defense, the ADF declared that the First Amendment exists to keep controversial ideas from being suppressed. “A university cannot censor professors’ speech--including classroom speech related to the topic of the class--merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French.
“We greatly appreciate the university’s move to put Professor Howell back in the classroom,” he continued, “but we will be watching carefully to make sure that his academic freedom is protected throughout the university’s ongoing process.”