For almost ten years, Dr. Kenneth J. Howell taught Introduction to Catholicism (and other classes) in the Department of Religion at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, consistently earning excellent—or even outstanding—marks on his student evaluations. In his class on May 3, 2010, he delivered a lecture outlining Catholic teaching regarding homosexual behavior, explaining how the Church distinguishes between same-sex attraction and homosexual conduct. He outlined how the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual conduct is morally wrong, framing the issue in the context of natural moral law. Though he covered this material in every semester, this lecture sparked an unprecedented reaction from students. So the next day, he sent the class an e-mail to help students understand how different moral systems would evaluate homosexual conduct. In the following weeks, Dr. Howell’s e-mail was circulated to various students, offices, and organizations within the University, often by people who were not even in his class. As a result, the University relieved him of his teaching responsibilities, without even giving him the opportunity to defend himself or explain his remarks. On July 12, 2010, the ADF Center for Academic Freedom sent the University a letter explaining that the First Amendment protects Dr. Howell’s right to teach Catholic doctrine in a class about Catholic doctrine. And it prohibits the University from removing him from the classroom simply because his speech was controversial.
WIN. The University of Illinois is reinstating Dr. Kenneth Howell as an adjuct professor this fall. In a letter to ADF, the University states that Dr. Howell will be asked to teach Introduction to Catholicism this fall. This is a tremendous win for Dr. Howell’s academic freedom and First Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court has yet to determine the full extent of professors’ free speech rights in the classroom. ADF is actively involved in cases protecting the rights of professors to express their views both inside and outside the classroom, free from discrimination because of their Christian or conservative views.
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