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
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
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."
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.
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.
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
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.