A popular professor has been barred from teaching by an American university because he explained Roman Catholic beliefs on homosexuality to students studying Roman Catholicism.
After the lecture to his “Introduction to Catholicism” class at the University of Illinois, Professor Kenneth Howell emailed his students and encouraged each of them to approach issues about homosexuality “as a thinking adult”.
His email prompted a complaint from a friend of an anonymous student, who denounced the email as hate speech and claimed to be “offended”.
The University responded by suspending Prof Howell and denying him any opportunity to defend his position, despite his excellent record.
Ann Mester, associate dean of the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that Howell’s statements “violate university standards of inclusivity”.
Prof Howell’s suspension from teaching has angered advocates of religious liberty.
Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Senior Counsel David French said that it is outrageous for a professor to be punished for teaching the actual subject matter of his course.
The ADF has now issued a deadline for the University to fully reinstate Prof Howell.
“The First Amendment protects the ability of faculty to speak freely, especially when the material is of direct relevance to the class”, said Mr French.
He added: “Professors’ careers cannot be made to stand or fall based on the emotions of intolerant, anonymous students who do not yet understand that opposing viewpoints exist within a free society”.
The University of Illinois is now reviewing its decision.
Howell’s suspension from teaching will cause concern to those who see a disturbing trend among US universities to suppress the fair exchange of religious perspectives.
Recent studies have demonstrated that Christian professors are consistently marginalised and passed over for promotion.
Yet decades of US Supreme Court precedent has settled that “The classroom is peculiarly the ‘market-place of ideas'”, and that universities “may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable”.
Earlier this month it was revealed that a police officer in Washington DC told a group of teachers and children praying outside the US Supreme Court that they should find somewhere else to go.
The ADF warned that the police action breached constitutional free speech rights.
“Christians shouldn’t be silenced for exercising their beliefs through quiet prayer on public property”, Nate Kellum from ADF said.