The University of Illinois fired adjunct professor Ken Howell over a statement that was declared “hate speech.”
But was it really?
Howell was a professor who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. His job was to teach students the doctrine of the Catholic Church, which includes a strong opinion about the morality of homosexual acts.
In an email to the class, Howell wrote that “Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.” A student took offense to this and complained that it was “hate speech.” The University of Illinois agreed and kicked Howell out the door.
To a public that is not entirely familiar with the finer points of Catholic teaching, this may in fact sound like a bigoted professor. The offended student argued their side writing that “Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another.”
In truth, this student’s comment shows an unfamiliarity with the concept of “Natural Law” in Catholic thought. In Catholic theology, Natural Law (capitalized) represents a philosophical code of ethics derived from the “natural” order of things in the physical world. In other words, deducing God’s intentions through nature. Natural Law was explored and determined by thousands of years of Catholic theologians including Augustine and Aquinas, and is used (in conjunction with the Scriptures) to determine the rules of morality.
The Catholic Church teaches that, while being homosexual is not a sin, engaging in homosexual acts is contrary to the Natural Law and therefore a sin. This is the official teaching of the Church, and a professor teaching a class on the Catholic religion should not be penalized for explaining this concept. People may not like or agree with the Church’s teaching, but the fact is, it’s what the Church teaches, and you’re not going to change that. The offended student clearly misunderstood the concept of Natural Law as a Catholic concept, and the University also misunderstood.
Every religion has a side that is often misunderstood by those who are not highly familiar with the finer points of the theology. Muslims hold Jihad, or Holy War, as one of the 5 primary tenents of their belief. Judaism disagrees that Jesus was the Messiah. Buhdists believe in reincarnation, a concept with is linked with the hated caste system in India. Some African tribal religions teach the ritual genital mutilation of females. The point is, if you’re going to pay a professor to teach students about the beliefs of a religion or culture, don’t penalize them for doing their job.
Would you rather censor everything so that students never learn about anything that could be confusing, challenging, dark, ugly, scarey, or just different? Do you want your graduates to think the world is absolutely perfect and everyone is the same? People need to know that there are many different types of people in this world. You can’t hide the truth of the world from university students. College kids are naive enough without you sheltering them.
The bottom line is, if you’re going to pay this professor to explain Catholic beliefs, don’t fire him if someone doesn’t agree. You’re doing a disservice to the man, but also to the student, who not only will never understand the definition of Natural Law as relates to Catholicism, but also will never learn that the world won’t always bend over backward to accomodate them.
Where does this lead? What other free academic thoughts are they going to suppress with the line of “hate speech”?