Sunday, July 11, 2010

Campus Free Speech Under Fire: UI Fires Religious Studies Professor for Teaching Religion

AAF has at times railed hard against the Catholic Church. We find its teachings offend the intellect, reinforce an antiquated dictatorship, and harm society's most vulnerable souls. We have little common ground with Dr. Kenneth Howell , who has taught classes on Catholic thought at the University of Illinois for 12 years. He has been fired for discussing the church's moral consideration on homosexuality:

This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. (read full email here)
Even setting aside the daft notion men and women can possibly be construed as psychologically "complementary" which no person who has dated would agree with, this line of thought is painfully anemic. Spreading such ideas could be unethical, even dangerous, but that is his job. He taught Intro to Catholicism, not Howell's Guide to Social Engineering. Dr. Ken made a big mistake: he tread upon the secular catechism with his religious catechism. He said Catholics think homosexual acts are wrong. Evidently you have to preach liberal dogma even in a religious studies class. 

Full disclosure: Dr. Howell is in my reckoning, a friend and ally of AAF. It is thanks to him we were able to put on a major debate last spring and hoped to do the same in the coming year. In spite of all our differences Dr. Howell and AAF are both committed to the open and free discussion of all topics of merit. We are equally committed to freedom of speech and to the virtue of public debate. We each see the university has a special place a nation should set aside for the free exchange of all ideas- offensive to some or otherwise. A campus is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not an exercise in authoritarian squelching of unpopular voices. 

What is happening here is not an isolated incident. This is the same university which only a couple years ago fired two editors of its supposedly protected free-speech paper after they reprinted cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. This is the same school that only months ago accused AAF of intolerance for protesting Islamic extremism. This is not just about the fate of Dr. Howell, but the degree to which we will allow any one ideology to control what we can say. What's happening here, now is wrong. It is not too late. You can make a difference right now by emailing our chancellor and telling him just what you think of all this. Chancellor Robert A. Easter: . Other officials you may with to contact:

President of the University of Illinois:

Office of President Michael J. Hogan
364 Henry Administration Building, MC-346
506 S Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801-3649


Office of President Michael J. Hogan
414 Administrative Office Building, MC-760
1737 W Polk Street
Chicago, IL 60612-7224

Head of the Department of Religion:

Professor Robert J. McKim
Department of Religion
3080 Foreign Languages Building, MC-166
707 S Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801-3643

Chaplain and Director of St. John's Catholic Newman Center:

The Reverend Monsignor Gregory Ketcham
604 E Armory Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820-6286

Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria:

The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C
Spalding Pastoral Center
419 NE Madison Avenue
Peoria, IL 61603-3719

Read the Full story in the News-Gazette


Bob said...

Well said. Reinstate the idiot.

Bob said...

While lending Mr Howell our support in getting his job back, I do not think we should do so unabashedly.

We need to be clear that sex between loving adults is clearly a very moral act. Howell's ideas are baseless in "REALITY" (all caps are his) and without any merit. Whether or not they are hate speech alone, his words are the sort of drivel that one must construct to in order to falsely bolster hate.

That said he, is not alone in his views, and they are the norm in Catholic thought, which apparently the university thinks is deserving of space in the course catalog. So reinstate the idiot.

Next year instead of having him moderate a debate, lets try to get him to defend the views in his letter against someone whose reason is not mangled by orthodoxy.

Edward Clint said...

Hey Bob.

Indeed, we are not defending anything he actually said. Moreover.. if his students learned Catholics find homosexual acts immoral for silly reasons.. I'd say they got their Intro to Catholicism money's worth.

Andrew said...

To Edward Clint and the AAF:

Thank you for your support of my friend Dr. Ken Howell. I am truly grateful for your willingness to speak out against his unjust firing even despite vast disagreements. It is a testimony to your honesty and goodwill.

Andrew J. Sodergren (UIUC alum)

Marcel Kincaid said...

"Evidently you have to preach liberal dogma even in a religious studies class. "

You undermine your credibility with this sort of immature ideological language, typical of libertarians. If you really want to defend Howell's right to be a fool, it is better done without all the snark and the self-serving stuff about the AAF being accused of intolerance -- perhaps the AAF did display intolerance -- that's an empirical question subject to a separate discussion.

I would note that Howell went far beyond teaching Catholic thought: he preached to the students, telling them that they weren't up to making moral decisions about homosexuality unless they studied it in depth and learned the history of moral thought. He supposedly was giving an example of utilitarianism so students could recognize it, but failed to sensibly describe utilitarianism and instead used it as a springboard for a moronic harangue about homosexual acts. He most certainly was not simply doing his job, and it's intellectually dishonest to claim that he was. Some sort of reprimand is appropriate, but I would agree that firing him is going too far.

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