UIllinois Prof Fired Over Teaching Subject He Was Hired To Teach

I'm probably going to regret wading knee-deep into this one, but the general response to the story has annoyed me to the point where I am considering covering real news. It's that bad.

At any rate, last week, a story started to circulate about Dr. Ken Howell, a professor at the University of Illinois was fired for "hate speech" for an email he wrote to a student detailing the authentic Catholic position on homosexual sex, which is, to say, that the Catholic Church doesn't like it and thinks it's bad. The student had another student complain to the administration, cc'ing enough gay rights attorneys to make the Prop 8 legal team look like the Washington Generals, Dr. Ken's contract didn't get renewed, and the rest is history.

Howell, who taught Introduction to
Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end
of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic
beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.

"Natural Moral Law says that Morality must
be a response to REALITY," he wrote in the e-mail. "In other words,
sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not
the same."

An unidentified student sent an e-mail to
religion department head Robert McKim on May 13, calling Howell's
e-mail "hate speech." The student claimed to be a friend of the
offended student. The writer said in the e-mail that his friend wanted
to remain anonymous.

"Teaching a student about the tenets of a
religion is one thing," the student wrote. "Declaring that homosexual
acts violate the natural laws of man is another."

Howell said he was teaching his students about the Catholic understanding of natural moral law.

First off, let me say that I am Catholic - hardcore - and that I've had a significant amount of instruction on the subject of Catholic Social Teaching, which is why when this story came out, I went to find the emails, which, of course, had been conveniently posted for me on the Interwebs.

I have to say, I'm not buying the kid's side of the story for a couple of reasons.

One, the Catholic Church does actually believe that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man,
and Dr. Ken does a pretty fantastic job of laying out about ten years
worth of education on the matter. Like it or not (and I'm guessing, in
the general population, you'll find more people siding with the
latter), the Church has some strong feelings about two men or two women
doing it, and those strong feelings are not open to interpretation,
though I'm sure there are some modern scholars who like to pretend that
Catholicism has a liberal American brand that is a fully competing
dogma rather than the slips of paper in a Vatican suggestion box they
happen to be. Fr. Pfleger comes to mind. At any rate, the Catholic
Church is pretty damned clear on this stuff, no pun intended, and Dr.
Ken was stating, pretty comprehensively, the party line. Better than a
lot of people, I might add. In other words, Dr. Ken wasn't just making
sh*t up for the purposes of pissing off an entire demographic. And, for
what it's worth, the discussion never went into a judgment on the people having Teh Gay Sex,
just the nature of the act itself, which is frankly unusual when people
discuss this stuff. And admirable, because it's pretty clear he's
trying to discuss this matter in a way that doesn't disrespect the
reader.

Two, I find it hard to
believe that, when one signs up for a class on Catholicism, even at a
major university, that one won't expect to be taught the tenets of Catholicism.
Call me crazy, but generally, a course on Catholic teaching would
probably involve teaching what the Catholic Church believes. I would
suspect students might also be required to regurgitate this on a test.
I suspect that some students may disagree with the subject matter. But
I also suspect that by age 20, you're more inclined to take sources
into consideration and approach the subject from an academic,
professional standpoint. Put more concisely, if you take a class on a
religion knowing you disagree with the tenets of that religion, perhaps
you shouldn't get your panties in a bunch when the professor outlines
those tenets. Professors should not be required to preface every
culturally "controversial" statement they make on any subject
with "If you cannot handle a viewpoint that differs from yours, please
stand in the hallway until I can safely call you and your fragile
viewpoint back into the conversation."

This
sounds like a disagreement between this kid and the Catholic Church
with Dr. Ken caught in the middle, punished for just being a member.
The disagreement is understandable. I mean, I get it. Try rectifying a
libertarian viewpoint with a strong Catholic faith, and yeah, I get it.
The firing over the disagreement, however, is not. If you don't like
the Catholic faith, take it out on the Catholic faith, not the people
teaching about it. You're not going to like the result of that little
game; if it's true that speaking the realities of a faith are enough to
disqualify a professor from academia, then honesty about sex is going
to disqualify pretty much every professor of any dogma at any academic
institution anywhere in the United States.

Like
it or not, the world is not full of people who subscribe to the
happy-clappy, Sesame Street, "everyone in the world is friends and
nothing you do can ever be judged as objectively wrong" progressive
liberal understanding of the universe. Sooner or later, you're going to
have to deal with it, and you're going to need to be prepared. The
whole point of a university is, shockingly, to give people an
education: to teach students to think critically about reality and
their beliefs, and, more importantly, communicate in the real world
where there are, occasionally, ideas and actions that make us
uncomfortable. At least, that was the whole point. If you use
"people being uncomfortable hearing something they disagree with" as
the golden standard for firing professors out of a university, you've
got a big problem on your hands. The standards of academia and the
exchange of ideas that drives them will be pretty much all but lost to
a four-year indoctrination program on how to become overly sensitive,
easily outraged and how to petition any semblance of authority for the
redress of even the most basic of grievances. Not to mention, all sense
of critical thinking and rational argument will be erased. That's cool
if you're, say, in Cuba, but notsomuch in the Western world.

So
here's the gist of it: maybe Catholicism is wrong about homosexual sex
(we can hash that puppy out another time), but that doesn't mean that
someone should be fired for teaching an authentic viewpoint. When
someone tries to beat an academic institution over the head with
idealism, forcing professors to scrub out all the parts that their
precious little angles' ears can't bear to hear, things get f**ked up. Look at Texas
and imagine if this situation were reversed and a "liberal" professor's
head was on the chopping block for teaching the realities of evolution
to a student who didn't like how a fossil record conflicted with his
carefully sheltered world view. The effect, and the result, is exactly
the same.

Lastly - and this is what
pisses me off more than anything - the freedom of speech is the freedom
of speech, period. Just because you disagree with it doesn't mean you
get to shut it down because, frankly, if you could, then you're next.
Dr. Ken has a number of complaints: academic freedom, religious
discrimination, violation of free speech, and a number of Establishment
clause issues. Yep, that darn Constitution and it's darned explicit
protection of things always getting in the way.  People in this country
are always speaking about how we have to be more tolerant that tolerance is a virtue and that we need to be tolerant of other people's beliefs, viewpoints and lifestyles,
well, tolerance goes both ways. Part and parcel in the notion of
"tolerance" is understanding, exchange and most of all, a recognition
of individual liberty: the freedom to be who you are, believe what you
believe and say what you want to say. Obviously, its uncool to talk
about the natural law around here anymore, but I (and probably Dr. Ken)
personally believe that each human being possesses innate dignity, from
which our own rights and freedoms derive. It is respect for this
dignity that drives our pursuit of individual freedoms. So often, the
"left" (and "right," but mostly the left) seem to forget that it's only
with repeated and absolute exercise of these freedoms - by everyone - do they continue to exist. 

Damn, it feels good to be a libertarian.

Comments

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  • Going to mass is one thing, taking a course on religion is another. No one takes these courses to have someone tell them how to interpret these subjective texts. He crossed the line by turning his personal interpretations as he sees it, basically into the "right" answers on an exam.

    I would have fired him three times over.

  • Except that in this case, it's evident that his "personal answers" as you call them were the RIGHT answers: he was restating the doctrine of the Church which isn't open to interpretation by him or anyone else. If he'd said, this is my judgment or "this is how it should be" or made a personal judgment, then your interpretation would be correct (probably still not the level of "hate speech," but more correct). But in this case, its almost absolutely evident that his was a scholarly explanation. Catholicism itself is a subjective interpretation of a text. Any individual religion differs from other religions because of their subjective interpretation of a text or texts. If you choose to take a course on Catholicism, you sign up to learn the interpretation. The idea that there are competing interpretations, even within Catholicism, is, well, wrong. Just because 'dissenting' Catholics might disagree with the Church's actual interpretation as defined in dogma does not mean that Catholics are free to interpret their faith as they see fit on any issue - something Americans seem to have a difficult time understanding. There's a single interpretation: the one Dr. Ken presented. Your qualm, then, is with the Catholic Church, not the person hired to teach what the Catholic Church believes.

    If the kid didn't like it, he could challenge the faith and should (or for that matter, challenge Dr. Ken), not go the route of personal destruction.

    Not to mention, you can't fire people for their personal beliefs. That, my friend, actually IS discrimination and a violation of the freedom of speech. I suspect that the "other side" in this debate isn't much concerned with the longer-term implications of firing someone because you don't agree with what they're teaching on a basic level, but the consequences are dire, particularly if this claim turns out to be facetious. Serial complaints do nothing by allow communities to de-legitimize real complaints.

    Dr. Ken's only obvious mistakes were assuming that anyone was actually interested in intellectual discourse and scholarly debate. The American Association of University Professors appears to agree. I suspect, though, this will play out in courts and on other stages.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    One thing I will agree with you on is that I don't feel this is technically "hate speech." However, his comments did sacrifice his ethical and academic responsibilities/credability as a college professor.

    You are also right that I have a huge qualm with the catholic church, and most all organized religion for that matter that teaches predjudice and intolerance.

    Religion is a personal thing. It's always up for interpretation. If you really think that Catholicism and its "doctrine" are above interpretation, then I would seriously argue why you are so concerned with intellectual debate. It seems to me that something that is not up for debate would allow no discussion, no matter how fascist that may seem.

    Critical thinking is what college-level courses are all about, especially when it comes to the more "theoretical" courses. It would be foolish to think otherwise. He wasn't inviting scholarly/intellectual debate in that email, he was preaching. He was telling people things to remember for an exam

    On a side note, why do you think we have so many different versions of the same bible? Its because those in power had the power of editing what was passed on to the everyday man. Was it always presented in the proper context for each version, no. Any theologian will agree with that. That's why these interpretations have to be constantly examined for context and meaning. If we took everything literally out

    This is not a "freedom of speech" issue. He said what he said, no one is begrudging him that. If by framing this as a freedom of speech issue in that he was limiting his students ideas and speech on what they feel the text means, then yes it might be a freedom of speech issue. Shame on him.

    Who will stand up for the students who are forced to silence their opinion and say something they don't agree with via their exam? Oh yeah, the school will/did.

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    The students are free to argue that homosexuality does not violate the natural moral law, but they are not free to argue that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise.

    Unless I am mistaken, this was a class on Catholicism. The official position of the Catholic Church is that homosexual acts are in violation of the natural law. Therefore, if you're taking a test and there is a question on the test which states, "According to the Catholic Church, do homosexual acts violate the natural law?", the only correct answer is "Yes".

    Now, if the question asked was, "Do you think homosexual acts violate the natural law?", then obviously that question can have many answers.

    Trying to deny that the Catholic Church has an official position on homosexuality, and that said official position is that homosexual acts can never be condoned, is essentially the same as denying that the Catholic Church has an official position on whether or not Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Of course, there are some "Catholic theologians" who will take issue with that statement as well, even if it is the foundation of the entire religion.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    What college level course did you take where a one word answer is ever sufficient?!?! I have never seen a yes/no question on any course based on theory. And in all honesty, why the heck would you ever use a hot button issue like Homosexuality as your example of immorality. Why not talk about rape, or child molestation (though apparently the immorality of this is still up for debate according to catholic church officials), or something that most all people agrees is immoral.

    Frankly, you can say religious texts are "official" and "not up for debate" until you are blue in the face. But I will keep to my opinion that thats not true, and believing that is dangerous. A very evil man once said, "How fortunate for rulers that people don't think for themselves."

    Just curious, the passage you mentioned below. When was that written? Was that written by God himself? Or perhaps Jesus Christ penned that. Or was it the most logical author, a fallible man who one day decided this is what our religion believes because its what I believe.

    Thought so...

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    Ryan, why so defensive? I'm merely explaining to you that the Catholic Church has an official position on this issue, along with many others. This was a class on Catholicism, therefore the professor should teach the tenets of Catholicism, don't you think? The passage I quoted below is from the "Catechism of the Catholic Church", which is a compendium of all of the official teachings of the Catholic Church. You can find it on the Vatican's website through Google if you're interested. It wasn't written by God, but if you're taking a class which is about what the Catholic Church teaches, expect the teachings to come from that book. Otherwise, why would you take a class on Catholicism in the first place?

    It's quite clear that you disagree with Catholic dogma, and that you don't like the Catholic Church very much, but Catholic teaching is what it is. That's why you and everyone else are free to not be Catholic (and not take classes in Catholicism) if you do so desire.

    Since you don't like my oversimplification of a test question, here's another version of it which might appear on Dr. Howell's test: "Explain the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality." Perhaps the follow up question could be, "Do you agree with this position? Why or why not?"

    How about we consider some other field, say, the teachings of Aristotle. Imagine you're taking a class on Aristotle and the professor explains to you that Aristotle believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe. You object, saying that the Earth is not at the center of the universe. That is the correct answer according to modern science, of course, but in Aristotle's day, the "modern science" of the time held that the Earth was at the very center of the universe, with the Sun, planets, and stars revolving around it. So on your test, you are asked to "Explain Aristotle's theories of planetary motion." If you write as your answer, "The Earth revolves around the Sun", you are wrong, because that's not what Aristotle believed. Right? It doesn't matter what you believe, even if you know yourself to be correct, because the question is about what Aristotle believes, just as the class Dr. Howell taught was about what Catholics believe.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    As a gay man, I have a right to be defensive. My main point of contention is that the exam question wasn't even regarding Homosexuality, it was on utilitarianism. He chose to use that as the example...and expand at length on the "wrongness" of homosexuality at times stepping out of the context of the course.

    I'll admit I'm getting to fired up to argue civilly and credibly at this point so I'm going to let my friend do it for me.

    http://blogs.the217.com/reesespieces/2010/07/11/the-firing-of-dr-howell-its-not-what-he-said-its-how-he-said-it/

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    Yes, you do have a right to be defensive and I understand where you're coming from. I'd bet you'd be surprised to know that I am a Catholic who is in favor of legalization of same-sex marriage at a state level.

    What seems to be the problem here is that people are confusing what Dr. Ken said with his purpose in saying it. Your friend and others are disagreeing with the very teachings of the Church: it's approach to homosexuality, it's understanding of human relationships and it's teaching on a number of subjects. Dr. Ken was trying to illustrate the Catholic teaching on the subject with examples. He wasn't going beyond the bounds of Catholic teaching, and he wasn't using any examples that wouldn't be normally found in any course on CST. Also, your friend is drawing conclusions about what Dr. Ken "means" when he states certain things. I can understand where these logical jumps are coming from, but I don't think it's fair to simply impugn Dr. Ken with certain characteristics and beliefs based on a single email and then use those assumptions to end his career. Your friend leaves the subject open-ended for a reason: the small amount of evidence we have does not lead immediately to such a harsh conclusion.

    You cannot try to silence every messenger of a message you don't agree with or that you think is dangerous. That, in and of itself, is dangerous. I understand that there is a long history of discrimination and a long history of strife between homosexuality and religion, but that doesn't mean that someone can be selected as "representative" of a viewpoint and crucified for the sins of all of his brethren who have not been kind.

    Plainly put, based on the evidence, Dr. Ken has a very good case against the university that his rights and academic freedoms were seriously violated. I suspect what is to come will be very informative.

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    I hope you see where I'm coming from here; if it's not kosher, so to speak, to teach a tenet of Catholicism in a class on Catholicism, then something is clearly wrong what that class.

    Regardless, I also hope that you will take to heart that section from the Catechism which explains the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. The Catholic Church specifically condemns any discrimination committed against homosexual persons, which is a lesson frequently lost in the discussion.

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    What a vibrant and intense discussion! While I am a liberal and have mixed views on a lot of what's been stated, I do enjoy this discussion and will definitely keep an open mind. Love it!

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    Arbitrary firings happen everyday to gays in the 37 states where gays have no civil rights protections. Therefore, who would be better qualified to understand the position than Dr. Howe is put in than gays, themselves?

    By supporting Catholic teaching which legally enables discrimination against even celibate gays, Dr. Howe is arguing that such firings are legally justified for gays, practicing or not. Even within the framework of Catholic morality, this is an ends justifies the means argument.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    First of all, it's pretty clear you're not interested in the facts. Dr. Howell's letter makes it obvious he's speaking about homosexual sex, not gays themselves, and he certainly did not argue for any discrimination. In fact, he himself puts it pretty bluntly: in no way is the Catholic church advocating discrimination over sexual attraction. It teaches against it. Gays cannot marry in the Catholic Church, but to say that the Church discriminates or legally enables discrimination against even celibate gays is absurd, and far beyond the scope of this argument. In fact, its contrary to the very written words.

    What your saying has pretty dire consequences. Your argument seems to be that, because gays get fired for being gay, it's okay that someone ELSE gets fired and has his rights violated. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Because some people are jerks, and those people happen to have shared the same religious beliefs as this guy who may or may not (you don't know) feel the same way, it's okay to allow academic freedom to fall by the wayside. And its justifiable. That doesn't play out well, because it essentially means that anyone could get fired for their religious beliefs so long as they don't comport with your viewpoint and such a firing would be justified simply by cultural history. That is, in itself, discrimination and an Establishment Clause violation to boot. If that is indeed the case, and he was fired simply for holding the beliefs he held in the face of those who might disagree, then he has a better chance at success in a lawsuit than I thought. I would say that it's a double standard that you wouldn't want applied to you in any case: to lose a job simply because another group of people doesn't like what you believe and blames it for historical inequality. It's also not a great way to make friends out of people you need to convert to overcome that equality.

    Obviously this is an emotional issue that is drawing in a lot of outside feelings. Clearly. And people are attaching a great many facts to the situation that are not there, drawing conclusions from an incident that cannot be drawn from the evidence as placed before us.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    "[I]n no way is the Catholic church advocating discrimination over sexual attraction."

    The Church specifically the CDF endorses discrimination in employment of teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. But it goes farther than that, it demands that no law ever be written which offers civil protection to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation.

    Beat the Catechism all you want to about opposing unjustified discrimination, but you have to go to the Church's source documents to understand what "UNJUST" means in this context.

    Below is a statement written by the CDF. It states Church opposition to all civil rights laws that recognize sexual orientation. This position has lead to Church denunciations of everything from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to anti-bullying laws to UN resolutions against civil penalties for homosexuality.

    ENDA is intended to approximate some the protections that you as a Catholic enjoy under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These include equal protection in housing, employment, education, union and membership. USCCB's opposition to ENDA is documented here:
    ( http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=6458 ). ENDA specifically exempts religious organizations from non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    SOME CONSIDERATIONS CONCERNING THE RESPONSE TO LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS ON THE NON-DISCRIMINATION OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS

    ( http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfhomol.htm )

    The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
    Revised statement issued on July 22, 1992.

    There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment.

    13. Including "homosexual orientation" among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right to homosexuality (cf. No. 10) which therefore should not form the basis for judicial claims. The passage from the recognition of homosexuality as a factor on which basis it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead, if not automatically, to the legislative protection and promotion of homosexuality. A person's homosexuality would be invoked in opposition to alleged discrimination, and thus the exercise of rights would be defended precisely via the affirmation of the homosexual condition instead of in terms of a violation of basic human rights.

    14. The "sexual orientation" of a person is not comparable to race, sex, age, etc. also for another reason than that given above which warrants attention. An individual's sexual orientation is generally not known to others unless he publicly identifies himself as having this orientation or unless some overt behavior manifests it. As a rule, the majority of homosexually oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives do not publicize their sexual orientation. Hence the problem of discrimination in terms of employment, housing, etc., does not usually arise.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    First of all, CDF is not the "teaching of the Catholic church" and it is not itself "the Church." Its teachings are not binding and its missives are often just advice on certain issues directed at a specific event based on the CCC. It is an interpretation, which we were discussing earlier, and nothing more. If you want the core Catholic teaching, you're going to need to suck it up and just read the damned CCC. Because, and this is the kicker...Dr. Ken was LECTURING ON THE CCC, not the CDF's 1992 letter, not the general understanding of the application of the teaching to specific incidents, and certainly not in regards to educational or employment discrimination and/or special rights and protections granted. When we are talking about the Church's teachings, as Dr. Ken was, the resource is the CCC.

    Look, even granted this exists, Dr. Ken Howell didn't teach on this. He didn't touch this subject. Frankly, we don't even know what he believes on this issue, and what he said has very little to do with the CDFs opinion or anyone else's. Your using this to justify an infringement on rights because you feel it provides a rational basis to an end you would like to see brought to bear on those who teach Catholic principles, or perhaps Catholics in general. If that conclusion seems a little much, think about it this way: anyone who self-identifies as a Catholic is, in some way, whether they want to be or not and regardless of their personal feelings, connected to this teaching - even gay Catholics, and there are many that I know personally, and those who support gay rights, like myself. By saying what you've said, you've effectively made discrimination against them justifiable, because no matter what happens, they will always be, in some way, by subscribing to a certain set of beliefs, complicit in some decision or another of the CDF and so, quite basically, "they deserve it." I suspect your hope is that by suffering this, they change their minds, or better yet, change the Church's mind, but I highly doubt being sacrificed at the altar of political correctness is going to win any friends to your argument, and it's certainly not going to set a precedent that you will want to live by.

    I'm not trying to be glib. I'm trying to speak honestly about this because I thought this would provoke a more intellectual debate on the nature and application of basic rights, and I believed, perhaps wrongly, that people understood that discrimination has its basis in the activities of people who cannot bear to think that there are others unlike themselves, no matter what that discrimination happens to manifest itself as. There's a deeper principle at work here and it has more to do with individual liberty, as I stated above, than it does with anyone's sexual preference.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    Also, this about your comment really grabs me and maybe bothers me about this whole situation AND the general response:

    "Arbitrary firings happen everyday to gays in the 37 states where gays have no civil rights protections. Therefore, who would be better qualified to understand the position than Dr. Howe is put in than gays, themselves?"

    Gays DON'T have civil rights protections. That's WRONG. Out and out WRONG. Why? Because those are basic human rights, basic civil rights, that extend for the dignity that every person has. No one should be discriminated against for their sexual orientation and I applaud people who stand up for these rights.

    But see, I respect all rights. I don't believe someone's rights should ever be violated because of who they are or what they believe. I guess I don't understand how anyone could justify infringing on anyone's rights, because any justification just makes it acceptable for others to justify their infringement on others rights.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    I don't think the man should have been fired. I do think the student had every right to speak to the dean over what was in the email.

    If I had been the dean I would have told the student that the student who found this email offensive will have to file a complaint and the teacher and the offended gay student with hash this out.

    Had I been the gay student I would have brought the Catechism and the source papers from the CDF which clearly endorse discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and are mentioned in the references of the Catechism.

    I would have said to the dean that I have no problem being told that others think that gay people are inferior. This has been quite clear to me since I was about 13. I do have a problem when a teacher tells me I am from an inferior class (objectively disordered). "Objectively Disordered" is not a narrow technical term because the source documents make it clear that they are making an analogy between my sexual orientation and mental illness and using that analogy to abridge rights guaranteed to that professor.

    I am justifiably angry, but I would not be justified in seeking his dismissal. I believe he was unaware of what was so offensive about his remarks. He deserves a chance, not to recant what he said, but to be more careful about crossing the line between education and advocacy when that could create a hostile environment for learning.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    There is a fine but very important line between condemning homosexual people and condemning homosexual acts. Unfortunately this all important line is too often blurred into oblivion, making any debate on the subject a complete waste. The Catholic Church will not condone being forced to sanctify what it believes to be sin, nor will it hire as teachers those who openly rebel against Catholic dogma. It doesn't matter what the issue is; if someone expressed an open belief in the Mormon concept that Jesus Christ is not consubstantial with the Father, he would not be hired to teach Catholicism in a Catholic school. If someone expressed an open belief in the general Protestant concept that Christianity does not follow an Apostolic Succession, he would not be hired to teach Catholicism in a Catholic school. It's not discrimination, unless it is also discrimination to not hire a Math teacher who teaches that 1 + 1 = 3. If someone is being hired to teach Catholicism, he must not be someone who is openly rebellious against Catholicism. It would kind of defeat the purpose.

    But I digress. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic Church supports discrimination against homosexuals. The authoritative teaching of the Magisterium states that homosexuals are NOT to be discriminated against, but let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the official teaching of the Catholic Church condones said discrimination. In the context of a class intended to teach the tenets of the Catholic faith, why would that make any difference?

    Assume that there was a class at the University of Illinois on Wahhabi Islam, the strain practiced by Osama bin Laden. The professor teaches that according to Wahhabism, it is virtuous to murder infidels and to oppress women. Naturally, the students would find this offensive, and would disagree with this philosophy. Does it then follow that the professor should be fired for upsetting his students? He was hired to teach Wahhabism. Should he teach something else?

    My point is that Dr. Howell was hired to teach Catholicism, and that's exactly what he did. Whether or not the students find the tenets of Catholicism insulting is immaterial. In fact, if they are so offended by the tenets of Catholicism, what are they doing in the class to begin with? If they wish to proselytize Dr. Howell in an attempt to lead him away from a faith they find distasteful, fine, but I see no reason to deprive a man of his livelihood for doing exactly what he was hired to do - teach his students about Catholic theology.

    I also find it very odd that many seem to think that Dr. Howell should have avoided any and all contentious subjects in his class. Had he done so, he would have committed academic fraud against his students. If professors begin to abridge their lessons in order to avoid upsetting anyone, then we might as well shut down the colleges, shut down the universities, because they will have been rendered useless.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    John, I'll make this real simple so that even you can understand. If I take a class on racism or anti-Catholicism, I expect to hear the truth discussed dispassionately. I do not expect the professor to avow racism or hatred for the catholic church. he is free to think those things, but by advocating them he creates a hostile environment for Catholics and people of other races.

    Rome does advocate discrimination against gays, celibate or not. I've cited authoritative references from the CDF, the ultimate authority on Catholic doctrine, that prove it. Moreover, the current pope was prefect of the congregation when this letter was written. He is personally responsible for approving it.

    Catholic teaching calls gays "objectively disordered," in that letter, and uses this claim to justify discrimination by making an analogy between "objective disorder" and mental disorder. In this respect Catholic teaching is inherently supremacist and bigoted. It is as offensive as any anti-Catholic trope you can dredge up.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    In other words, if a professor is hired to teach a controversial subject, he should not make any significant attempt to explain why one side feels the way they do if it's going to upset his students. If he's teaching a class on Evolution and some Young Earth Creationist in the class gets upset, he should shut up and back down, lest he be accused of "advocating" for something that might upset his students. Is that what you're saying? Because it sure sounds like it.

    Everyone I have yet debated on this issue with who is against Dr. Howell ultimately ends up becoming emotional and irrational, and their words carry the foul stench of anti-Catholic bigotry. I have little doubt that those who fired Dr. Howell behaved in the same fashion.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    This is tangential to the discussion, but I'm also finding an interesting duality: that Catholic teaching is quoted correctly when there is utility in doing so and quoted incorrectly when there is utility in doing so.

    FWIW, Frank, the CDF letter you've cited isn't binding nor is it considered the definitive Catholic teaching - metaphorically, the CDF is more like the "appeals court" and the CCC is the "Constitution." Someone teaching foundations of American law, as Dr. Howell was teaching foundational Catholic teaching, would teach the Constitution, as Howell taught the CCC. Someone teaching Applied Legal Theory would teach Supreme Court cases, as someone teaching Applied Catholic Thought would teach from CDF. Problems with the CDF are ancillary to problems with Catholic dogma. In this case the CDF would not come into play because the text is the CCC, not some interpretation of it as applied to a modern situation.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    The document I cite published in 1992 is not a commentary on the Catechism you cite published in 2005. That's physically impossible.

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is, as it was originally named, The Roman and Universal Inquisition. (Under Roman law an inquisition is simply a court.) As such, it isn't an appeals court, it is the Church's analog of the Supreme Court. The letter I cited was to the USCCB and was binding on them. When the USCCB published a conciliatory letter about gay Catholics, "Always our Children." The CDF cited the document I quoted and forced all the USCCB to rewrite the letter.

    Moreover, the current Pope was Prefect of the Congregation when that document was written.

    Are you telling me that he didn't read it and approve it?

    It's sleazy of you to accuse me of intellectual dishonesty.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    The CCC's latest version was published in 1995. It's not brand new. There are versions of it going back centuries. The 1995 version is just the latest version. Yes. I didn't write well, the CDF is the Supreme Court, but its influence and the influence of the USCCB is complex, as is the issue of the Church's position on laws regarding legal protection of gays. I don't know enough about the situation the letter was referring to (because they generally are issued based on a current event the USCCB needs to address or make an official statement on) so I can't speak to what happened, but I CAN tell you that the way that you are viewing the sources isn't consistent with how they actually operate. I'm not sure you're understanding me and I think that's a more a reflection of my lack of time to address the issue.

    I'm not accusing you of intellectual dishonesty. That comment was a general observation of some arguments I've seen on other websites. John made a general observation, so I said what I noticed as well. Sorry if you understood it that way. That's now how it was intended to sound.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    By the way, every pronouncement by a Catholic bishop, archbishop, or Cardinal made after the publication of "Some Considerations..." is in compliance with paragraph 13 of that document.

    The Bishops have opposed everything from anti-bullying laws to ENDA. Not since 1992 when an Oregon bishop opposed Measure 9 has any American bishop defended the civil rights of gays.

    How could Dr. Howell explain the Catechism's ban on unjust discrimination in the light of continual defense of unjust discrimination by the U.S. bishops?

    Are students of Catholicism supposed to be as incurious as Catholics?

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    How do you know he didn't? I was assume that he did probably not to the student's satisfaction since at least one of the emails refers to classroom discussions.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    Also, you should note that I am much closer to what you believe (or seem to believe) on this issue than I am to what is stated in the letter. I'm not trying to defend them, merely trying to organize the resources.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    I apologize for calling what you wrote "sleazy."

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    To put it bluntly, the Professor has been put in the same position in which many gay students at Catholic institutions have found themselves. From the time I was 13 until the time that I graduated from high school, I had to keep absolutely silent about the thing that concerned me most. Being known as gay at my high school would have gotten me expelled and committed for conversion therapy. I got called "faggot" everyday by students and, occasionally faculty, and the priests did nothing. I was a virgin and never intended to have sex but I still thought about it.

    When I graduated and went to a secular university with higher academic standards than my high school, I went from the top 25% of my high school class to having a 4.0 in college. By the time I graduated college, I was an engineering major with a minor in math but I had the best course record in mathematics of any undergraduate because I had taken the most advanced courses and had straight A's. I interviewed for a job with the National Security Administration. When I was interviewed, I was given a questionnaire that asked if I'd ever had gay sex. No other questions of a sexual nature were asked. I was told I would have to answer all questions in a lie detector test. At twenty, I was a virgin, and a Catholic and I hadn't even said the words "I'm gay" aloud. I left the interview convinced that I would give a false positive lie detector test and was threatened with losing my on campus interviewing privileges.

    So, you see, I can understand what it means to be uncomfortable when pursuing an education. I'll bet the gay student does too.

    Oddly enough, I can sympathize with the professor's feelings of being hounded by thought police precisely because I've experienced the same thing by virtue of being gay and catholic (now formerly).

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    I definitely do see. I'm really sorry for what's happened to you.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    I appreciate that, but the real point should be that the experience should lead me to want to prevent others from experiencing such discrimination, even naive Catholic adjuncts.

    There is a fundamental problem I perceive with Catholic teaching on homosexuality itself. It's called "Objectively disordered" and a tendency toward evil.

    This just isn't true. For gays as much as for straights, attraction and romantic love are best not separated from each other. Without love, sexual attraction becomes lust. Love is what engenders respect for the other. For all its frustration in the absence of fulfillment, sexual attraction is a necessary part of the human condition.

    For men, sexual attraction often precedes romantic love. There is a linear progression from eros to philos to agape. All one has to do is to make the decision to love selflessly and to stay faithful to that decision.

    The experience of romantic love leads to an understanding of the meaning of selfless love.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    Where have I been emotional in responding to you? I a have a doctorate in mathematics. with 20 years post doctoral experience in academic and industrial research.

    I avoid sex. I have done so since 1984, when Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute published paper determining that AIDS (then GRID) was caused by an incurable virus with a multi-year latency period. I made this decision based on a mathematical model of disease transmission which said that with a long period between infection and the onset of symptoms, the rate of infection would increase in proportion to those already infected. Hence, the rate would increase exponentially for years, as, indeed it did.

    I found it hard to convince others precisely because my reasoning was so dispassionate.

    I find the Catholic arguments against civil equality dominated by a consequentialism that ignores the deleterious effects of anti-gay discrimination on those who are celibate. We still need to earn a living. We still have a contribution to make. Some gay people have extraordinary gifts.

    In my own scientific field, I have to be out precisely because being closeted means I could be subject to blackmail.

    Furthermore, I have fundamental right to defend myself against unjust discrimination. I can't do this while hiding my orientation unless I lie about it. I refuse to do so.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    You said:

    "Where have I been emotional in responding to you?"

    Does this look familiar?

    "John, I'll make this real simple so that even you can understand."

    You continue to argue that the Catholic Church is a bigoted institution which discriminates against gays, which is probably why you count yourself as a former Catholic. As I told you, and you ignored in favor of hurling insults at my intelligence, it doesn't matter whether or not the Catholic Church is bigoted for the sake of this discussion, which is about whether or not Dr. Howell was justly fired. You say that Dr. Howell was advocating in favor of discrimination; I say that he was teaching Catholic dogma, which involves actually explaining the logical process through which the dogma was originally written.

    The inherent contradiction in your argument is that you say that the Catholic Church is bigoted, but that Dr. Howell shouldn't be teaching that the Catholic Church is bigoted. You say that it's advocacy. Advocacy for what, exactly, I cannot say, seeing as how anti-Catholics have already condemned Dr. Howell as stupid, incompetent, and a bigot. His advocacy doesn't appear to be very effective if it is indeed advocacy to begin with.

    Now, you might think that Dr. Howell explaining the Catholic Church's position amounts to advocacy, but I call it being thorough. Apparently you would rather a discussion go as follows in Dr. Howell's class:

    Dr. Howell: The Catholic Church opposes homosexual acts.

    Student: But why? Why does the Catholic Church hate gays?

    Dr. Howell: Uh, I guess they're just evil bigots?

    Student: Yeah, and the Pope is a Nazi, too!

    Dr. Howell: Sure, why not?

    After all, if Dr. Howell explains the Catholic Church's real position on homosexuality, a position you refuse to acknowledge, and you intentionally twist through references to the CDF's position on a piece of legislation, which is hardly an accurate or precise way to pin down theology, he will be "advocating" in favor of something you find distasteful. And we all know that college professors NEVER advocate in favor of anything.

    You say that the CDF opposing legislation proves that it's bigoted against homosexuals. That's like saying that the USCCB is against healthcare, since it opposed the recent healthcare bill passed by Congress. It's intellectually shallow, intentionally if you ask me, in order to demonize those with whom you disagree.

    I also have a question. You said that you had to keep your orientation hidden in high school. But you also said that you were called names every day because of your orientation. Does that makes any sense whatsoever, or are you contradicting yourself, again, like you have throughout this discussion?

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    I have a problem with your reading comprehension. It's not something I get emotional about. I have not demonized you. I haven't called you evil, or "Objectively Disordered" or a "Sodomite," all of which your Church has called me. You didn't read what I actually wrote and I chastised you for it.

    I said that Howell crossed the line from explanation to advocacy. One can explain phrenology, for instance, without advocating it. Calling Natural Law REALITY (all caps) is advocacy. Natural Law is a competing theory of reality, not the only one. Howell should teach what the Catholic church teaches; however, at a secular university, he has to be careful about advocacy.

    John I was called names because I befriended someone thought to be gay. I didn't really like him but I couldn't stand to see someone treated that way. I don't know if he was gay or not. The one thing I could do was to see that he didn't carry that cross alone.

    So mob justice isn't always just, is it? You'd think someone who is a follower of a man unjustly executed because of the unjust hatred of a mob would understand that.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    Considering that you absolutely refuse to acknowledge what I said you would refuse to acknowledge, that is, that there is a difference between condemning homosexual acts and condemning homosexual persons... and considering that you also refuse to acknowledge that a professor attempting to explain the subject he was assigned to teach his students, yes, even with ALL CAPS, should be kosher for any college class...

    ...there's really no point to this discussion, is there?

    I already got out of this discussion what I knew I would get - that those who advocate the firing/punishment of Dr. Howell do so out of a sense of anger, hatred, and revenge. The Catholic Church hurt you by continuing to teach 2,000 year old dogma, so that makes it OK when a Catholic is deprived of his livelihood. Revenge is your goal. That's fine, but I would prefer honesty in any discussion, like the honesty of PZ Myers, for example. He does not pretend that his mind is not clouded by intense hatred.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    John, as I said, I wouldn't have the man fired.

    According to the documents I cited written under the auspices of the current Pope, your Church attacks my civil rights and denies me the same protections in employment discrimination you have as a Catholic. From what I've seen, you're an obnoxious, bigoted, idiot who desperately needs them by the way.

    As for making a distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual persons, the Church makes no _functional_ distinction. It says I have no right to legal protection from discrimination regardless of how I live my life.

    As for revenge against the Church, why would that be necessary? The anti-gay civil rights side is self-destructing precisely because it's filled with ignorant, blowhard supremacists like yourself who always fail in court even before conservative judges because you never listen to the argument of the other side and hence don't prepare. You don't acknowledge that we have any rights at all and that is your undoing.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    That's more like it. The name-calling is a good start, but you really should drop the lies, y'know? The bullcrap about how you don't have any rights, and how I supposedly don't want you to have any rights is the most tiresome and ridiculous thing you've been saying. Nobody outside of Westboro Baptist Church cares if you have a homosexual inclination that you don't act on. You can pretend that I or anyone else cares, and make yourself into some kind of martyr, but nobody cares, not even our German Pope who you've been enjoying slandering.

    It's really a waste to explain this AGAIN to someone who is completely irrational and unreasonable, but the Catholic Church isn't interested in denying you rights, and they ARE NOT denying you rights. The Church simply doesn't want to be forced to sanctify sinful BEHAVIOR. If you are not indulging in sinful behavior (aside from bearing false witness, anyway), then NOBODY CARES.

    Drop the martyr act. It makes it hard to take anything you say seriously. Not that I do, but that's besides the point.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    As for your comments about legislative proposals, I've included the stated rationale by the CDF. The CDF documents oppose all civil legislation that specifically recognizes gays as a class. That allows mob punishment of without regard to guilt or innocence. It's a consequentialist argument - the end of correcting the transgressor justifies the persecution of the innocent.

    If you want an analogy with healthcare, that would mean the CDF opposing all patients rights proposals from HIPAA (medical privacy) to the Americans With Disabilites Act (non-discrimination against the handicapped) to healthcare reform.

    As for your claim that I am demonizing you, the leadership of your Church claims that I must have fewer rights than you do in the areas of employment, education, housing, etc. by the claim that I am particularly cursed by original sin in a way that makes me especially likely to commit evil.

    This is prejudice. Your repeated defense of it is bigotry.

  • In reply to radiofreerome:

    ... and your continued lies are tiresome. Your arbitrary vendetta against the Catholic Church has lead you to spout some real whoppers. I won't bother pointing them out one by one, because you'll just ignore it, anyway, as you have ignored everything vital in this entire thread and tried your darndest to hurl it off on irrelevant tangents.

    As I said, I only expect one thing in any discussion - honesty. When I don't get that, the discussion is over.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    I think we actually agree about 100%, except that I do think it would be beneficial to have some further communication on the subject between the actual student and the professor. Mis-communications like this do a lot more to hurt everyone in the long run.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    FWIW, I don't believe any of this crap would have happened if we'd stayed with Italian popes. There's a good reason the last German Pope's statue was thrown into the Tiber.

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    After a mini-debate on my facebook page, I reversed half of my position on this. While I COMPLETELY disagree with what he said, he perhaps should nit have been fired over this...alone. What we do not know in this situation, and may never know, is whether this was an isolated incident. A former professor of mine who teaches some religion classes pointed out that since he was fired, logically this may not have been the only complaint the school has received regarding this professor. She also pointed out several other really good points about why the way he approached this was academically unethical, including his timing. I'll try to convince her to copy/paste her comments here but if not you can search through my facebook page for it (facebook.com/ryanjustice)

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    I think your professor makes some really good points. You should also check out PZ Myers, one of my favorites', take on this issue: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/07/honesty_about_sex_is_going_to.php

    Basically, he says almost the same thing as your prof, except that he says the teaching was incomplete and therefore flawed, meaning they might have had the case that he was a bad teacher. Interesting.

    :)

  • In reply to emzanotti:

    PZ Myers brings a breath of fresh air in the debate, as one of the few men who is honest about his ultra-white-hot hatred of Catholicism. He admits that he hates Catholics - as if his desecration of the Eucharist a few years ago didn't make it clear enough - and argues in favor of the firing of all Catholics from institutions of learning. Bitterly, wickedly anti-Catholic and evil, but honest. I have to respect the honesty. It's more than was given to Dr. Howell.

  • In reply to JohnLewandowski:

    Yeah, part B of that post goes waaaaaaay off the deep end, but I have to respect at least this quote:

    "A letter that condemned students, that threatened students if they didn't agree with his views, that discriminated against a segment of society, or that denied people full participation in the culture for their views or background or private practices

  • In reply to RyanJustice:

    So, you're saying, if I disagree with a professor on a subject - in fact, I dislike the very subject he is teaching...say, John Kenneth Galbraith's interpretation of economics - then I'm free to answer a question on a test about JKG any way I see fit to comport with my own personal predilections and the professor teaching me should be forced to accommodate my viewpoint even though it is, objectively, wrong according to the parameters on which I am examined? I would, essentially, be being "forced" to write the opposing position (Oh, the horror of recognizing that someone thinks differently than I!) Even if I disagree, my answer would have to be the answer to the question. My purpose in that class might be to collect information from scholars who I believe are wrong on a particular topic, not to force the professor to give me credit for my disagreement as though that in and of itself were some sort of academic achievement. That won't serve me well at all. The time and place for my objections is in the classroom, yes, and there's no indication that Dr. Ken did not allow reasonable disagreement within the scope of class time - in fact, I've heard much to suggest that he did and the student in this case has produced no proof to the contrary other than his own word. The only evidence to go on is an email in which a student asked a question. Dr. Ken answered from the very text that all Catholic doctrine comes, the Catechism. Not a word suggests he cared what the student believed the veracity of those teachings to be, or whether that even mattered.

    Catholic teachings are up for intellectual debate...but there is intellectual debate and then there is instruction on the basic teachings, which form the foundation for intellectual debate (don't you have to know the position of your opposition before you can form coherent arguments?). If the question is "what does the Church teach on this subject" then the answer is not up for discussion. The Church teaches X. The answer is X. My qualm with the Church could be handled in a number of ways, but on a test, I do not have the right to put whatever I see fit into the space and assume I am right. I don't have that luxury in any academic theater. Plain and simple, the Church teaches that homosexual sex is contrary to the natural moral order. That's a fact. They teach THAT. Whether that is right is the part that is open to intellectual debate. Not what the Church teaches. And I do not believe, from the objective evidence Dr. Ken was saying no one could take this information and reject it, OR that each student should be forced to believe it under penalty of damnation, merely that they understand that the Catholics have a dogma and this is it.

    So many religions exist, particularly Protestant religions, because of disagreement with Catholic dogma. But the class wasn't on Protestant teaching, or the Reformation, or the plurality of dissent. It was on Catholic teaching.

  • The problem here as I see it is that the University of Illinois does not seem to understand that there is an official Catholic teaching on homosexuality, and if you want to know what that official teaching is, you go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:

    "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that

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