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An adjunct professor of religion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been fired over antigay statements he made, but he says the firing infringes on his academic freedom.
Kenneth Howell, who had taught courses on Catholicism at the public university since 2001, sent students an e-mail in May in preparation for a final exam that included a question on utilitarian philosophy, which judges acts based on their practical outcomes. In the e-mail, published last week by The News-Gazette of Urbana-Champaign, he expanded onE class discussion by saying that while a utilitarian might judge homosexual acts to be moral if they are consensual, there are other factors to consider, such as whether the acts accord with natural law. Howell called gay sex acts immoral because "men and women are not interchangeable" and "they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body." He also said that in gay sex, one partner acts as the man and the other as the woman.
A student who said he had a friend in Howell's class complained to university administrators that the professor's comments were "hate speech," "inflammatory," and "insensitive" to non-Catholics and LGBT students, and that Howell had made similar statements in class and left little room for argument. (Howell says he always allowed for respectful disagreement.) At the end of the spring semester, the university informed Howell that he would no longer be teaching at the U of I.
U of I officials declined to comment on the specifics of the matter, but according to e-mails obtained by The News-Gazette, at least one had said Howell's comments "violate university standards of inclusivity."
The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, sent the university a letter Monday calling for Howell's immediate reinstatement and saying it would advise Howell to sue if this does not happen. Read more about the case here and here.