School Reinstates Professor After Firing Him Over Catholic Teachings on Sexuality

The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana will once again allow a Catholic professor to teach on the subject of Catholicism after firing him last month for explaining the Catholic Church's position on human sexual behavior to members of his class.

The university confirmed with attorneys representing Dr. Kenneth Howell last week that its School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics would be contacting the professor to offer him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism, on a visiting instructional appointment at the school for the fall 2010 semester.

"Dr. Howell will be appointed and paid by the University for this adjunct teaching assignment," stated a letter from the school's Office of University Counsel to attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund.

ADF attorneys had sent a letter to university officials on July 12 explaining that Howell's First Amendment rights were violated when they relieved the professor of his teaching duties based in part on an anonymous complaint sent via e-mail to them.

The e-mail, sent by the friend of one of Howell's students, claimed to be "offended" by a May 4 e-mail Howell sent to students elaborating on a class discussion concerning Catholic beliefs about sexual behavior.

Notably, however, the May 4 e-mail from Howell was addressing a lecture the day before in which he explained how the Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between same-sex attraction and homosexual conduct.

In his explanation, Howell said the church body's taught homosexual conduct as morally wrong, framing the issue in the context of natural moral law.

"A university cannot censor professors' speech – including classroom speech related to the topic of the class – merely because certain ideas 'offend' an anonymous student," commented ADF Senior Counsel David French.

"We greatly appreciate the university's move to put Professor Howell back in the classroom, but we will be watching carefully to make sure that his academic freedom is protected throughout the university's ongoing process," he added.

While the university stated in its letter that it would rehire Howell, it did not admit any wrongdoing on its part.

Furthermore, the letter said a university committee would continue its investigation of Howell's situation.

Howell had been teaching at the university since 2001.