University teacher fired for explaining Catholic philosophical basis of traditional morality

(Note, July 13: the discussion continues with a comment by Mr. Zarkov.)

UPDATE, July 12, 7 p.m.: I just read the linked article from an Illinois newspaper about the firing of Kenneth Howell and I’m stunned. I can’t offhand think of a precedent for this—a university instructor losing his job teaching two courses on Catholicism, which he had held for nine years, because as part of one of his courses he sent e-mails to his students explaining why Catholic natural law teaching disapproves of homosexual acts. A female associate dean says that Howell was dismissed because his statements “violate university standards of inclusivity.” Meaning, of course, that he said something critical of homosexuality. But since the university’s Religion Department pays Howell for teaching Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, how can he teach those courses without violating inclusivity? I guess the university’s answer would be that in order for a professor to teach a course about Catholicism without violating inclusivity and without being fired, he must never mention the fact that the Catholic Church disapproves of homosexual acts, or, if he does mention it, he must make clear his own disapproval of the Church’s disapproval of homosexual acts. In short, the issue can be discussed, but only from one side.

It’s similar to what I’ve often said about the subject of immigration and race. Under the unwritten and unspoken liberal rules that govern speech in our society, it’s fine to point out the fact that our immigration policy is steadily turning America into a nonwhite country—if you simultaneously state your warm approval of that fact. But if you state the very same fact—that immigration is steadily turning America into a nonwhite country—and indicate that you disapprove of it, or even if you merely treat the fact neutrally, neither approving nor disapproving of it, THAT is racist, and if you have a job or career in mainstream America it will be over. In mainstream America, not even a hint of a soupçon of an implication of a non-liberal, non-approving position on the de-Europeanization of America is allowed. Our survival as a nation and a culture depends on our identifying and overturning this silent tyranny.

JCS writes:

Dr. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was fired for explaining Catholic reasoning in a course on Catholicism. The following article contains a summary of the matter, along with the email from Dr. Howell that initiated his firing and the email from the offended student. The offended student did not attend the class. I guess you can call it offense by association.

To my knowledge, this action represents a new step for the liberal insanity in academia. Frankly, I did not expect it at Illinois, which is a public University with an unremarkable Liberal Arts and Sciences department. Dr. Howell was purged for teaching Catholicism, which was his job. His email is not offensive in any sense. It is simply an explanation of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching and does not invoke Church authority or the Scriptures. It is a philosophic defense of traditional Western morality that fifty years ago was an unexceptional proposition.

The University just declared anathema any line of inquiry or reasoning which does not result in the celebration of homosexuality. By implication, there can be no faculty, staff, or students who may even explain, or defend, or hold quietlysuch views. A new Dark Age is sweeping over the West caused by modern barbarians in ivory towers.

Lucifer would want to know his opponents’ arguments, if only to be able to confound them; modern liberalism cannot even rise to the dignity of the Devil.

- end of initial entry -

Kilroy M. writes from Australia:

I don’t understand how this is in harmony with your Constitution’s anti-establishment provisions. If you can’t “establish” a religion, how it is possible to make effectively the exposition of a religious doctrine a “firing offense”? Isn’t this just a blatant violation of basic civil rights (the right to worship God and follow his laws)?

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Responding to Kilroy M., this does appear to be a rather flagrant violation of the First Amendment, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Establishment Clause to which he refers. The clause he’s thinking of is the Free Exercise clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”). Even the Free Exercise clause doesn’t quite apply here, since if he was actively proselytizing in his capacity as a public employee, that would arguably under current jurisprudence be a violation of the Establishment Clause, and the University of Illinois would be obligated to dismiss him!

In truth this is a straightforward violation of the next clause, that is, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” In this instance the professor was not practicing his religious faith or engaging in some behavior “establishing” Catholicism via his role as an employee of the state. He was simply teaching what, in fact, Catholic doctrine does say. The courts have long upheld basic academic freedom under the more general provision for freedom of speech under the First Amendment. This case ought to be a slam dunk, since it is tantamount to firing a professor for teaching about Marx’s theory of surplus labor in a class on Marxism.

July 13

Alexis Zarkov writes:

I’m sure FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) will take this case. I suspect the university will reinstate the professor after receiving a letter from FIRE as it would be foolish and a waste of money for the university to fight this in court. There is no “inclusivity” exception to the First Amendment. FIRE has won many cases similar to this one. The university might also be violating the Illinois state constitution as well. The professor can also sue for violation of his tenure rights.

I wonder if the dean consulted the university’s legal department. This is so egregious I can’t help wondering if there are facts that we are not aware if. Of course many other universities have tried the same kind of stupid move only to get slapped down in court. I guess it’s easy to spend other people’s money on legal fees.

When the Republicans controlled the White House and Congress they should have passed a law denying federal money to any university that has speech codes, and mandates a cutoff of all federal money if a university loses a First Amendment case. [LA replies: what an excellent idea. Why has no one suggested this before?]

I urge VFR readers to contribute to FIRE.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 12, 2010 07:03 AM | Send

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