Oxford supports emeritus professor accused of 'transphobia'

finnis Professor John Finnis. CNA file photo.

Oxford University is standing by an emeritus law professor after more than 400 people have signed a petition calling for his removal from the university. Petition organizers say the professor holds discriminatory views about homosexuality and transgenderism.

"John Finnis, Professor at Oxford's Law Faculty, has a long record of extremely discriminatory views against many groups of disadvantaged people. He is known for being particularly homophobic and transphobic," the petition reads.

Finnis, 78, is in fact an emeritus law professor at Oxford; he retired from full-time teaching work in 2010, but co-teaches seminars for postgraduate students. He also holds a chair at the University of Notre Dame's law school.

The professor is known in philosophical circles as a proponent of the "new natural law" theory, which holds that by recognizing certain basic human goods, moral norms can be identified through practical reasoning.

In response to the petition calling for Finnis' removal, an Oxford spokesperson said that the university and its law school "promote an inclusive culture which respects the rights and dignity of all staff and students. We are clear we do not tolerate any form of harassment of individuals on any grounds, including sexual orientation. Equally, the University's harassment policy also protects academic freedom of speech and is clear that vigorous academic debate does not amount to harassment when conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others."

Alex Benn, an Oxford law student and petition organizer, told The Oxford Student that "John Finnis has built a career on demonisation. His so-called 'arguments' about disadvantaged people are hateful, not to mention widely discredited. His position at Oxford ignores his decades-long promotion of discrimination and, in particular, his active role in worsening the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Meanwhile the Law Faculty-in its silence-is content to give him its stamp of approval."

But Finnis told The Oxford Student that "the petition travesties my position, and my testimony in American constitutional litigation. Anyone who consults the Law Faculty website and follows the links in the petition can see the petition's many errors. I stand by all these writings. There is not a 'phobic' sentence in them."

Referencing a 1994 essay on homosexuality especially criticized in the petition, Finnis said it "promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts and has been republished many times, most recently by Oxford University Press in the third volume of my Collected Essays."

Finnis made headlines in 2017, during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote a dissertation under the professor's supervision. In February 2017, Robert P. George, McCormich Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, praised Finnis as an "internationally acclaimed philosopher of law and a theorist of natural law and natural rights."

The professor is a Fellow of the British Academy, and was a member of the International Theological Commission of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita.

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