First, Fifth, Sixth, Fourteenth…

Fox News: University of Illinois Instructor Fired Over Catholic Beliefs

The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.

Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.

“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

David Letterman used to do a joke in which he said that travelers to New York City could have fun by grabbing the Bible out of their hotel room drawer, looking out the window, and circling the Ten Commandments as they saw them being broken.

Here, it’s almost the same thing, but with the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  The University of Illinois, after all, is a state school.

First, and appropriately so, the university’s decision to fire Professor Howell violated his freedom of speech as preserved by the First Amendment.  And because the restrictions on Howell’s freedom of speech were presumably applied to him and not others because of his religion, his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment were violated as well.  And no, there is no Establishment Clause defense — Howell was not attempting to force an official religion on kids through his position at a state school; he was merely explaining his take, as a Catholic and a professor who taught “Introduction to Catholicism” and “Modern Catholic Thought,” on a newsworthy and controversial issue dominating recent weeks, months and years.

Second, when the university agreed to take disciplinary action based on an anonymous report submitted by a friend of the reporting student, the school violated Ken Howell’s right to confront his accuser, preserved by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.  Okay, so that one’s a little bit of a stretch–Sixth Amendment issues of that sort arise during criminal trials–but the right to confront an accuser is also enshrined in the Due Process requirements under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Third, when the university fired him without any sort of disciplinary hearing, they violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  And because First Amendment rights are considered fundamental rights and religion is considered a suspect classification–along with race, national origin and alienage–the decision by the university to fire Ken Howell must be evaluated under the strict scrutiny standard, which means that his termination must be considered necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.  That’s a tough standard for the school to overcome.

Somehow, however, I’m not certain that this story will make Letterman’s “Top Ten” list tonight, or any other night.



  1. Boston Blackie says:

    So let me see if I get this right – Howell was hired to teach Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, then is fired for actually teaching what he was hired to do!?! That was his first mistake. Why wasn’t he using his classtime to indoctrinate his students in the values of Obamacare and all the other virtues of this progressive admin.

    Welcome back, Jeff, from your never ending cramming session. When you take time to lift your head out of your books, you prove to us that the studying is paying off. You will surely ace the bar exam.
    Now back to studying :)

  2. Boston Blackie says:

    BTW, this is the same school system that employs Bill Ayers. He is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He holds the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar. I guess the more radical the better. Another reason why my daughter has attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through the completion of college. At least at the Catholic colleges, radical professors are still in the minority.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow, it seems we have lived to see the forced irrelevancy of our beloved Constitution. Very sad, and worthy of a revolution. IMHO

  4. KJ says:

    Hate crimes, Hate speech. Isn’t this trying to punish people for what they think? Thought crimes? Opinions of crimes should be based on the actions taken alone.

  5. Randy Wills says:

    Thanks, Jeff, for bringing attention to the unjust action taken against Professor Howell by the University of Illinois. In the eyes of the university, he committed two unforgivable sins. Therefore, those poor folks had no choice but to terminate him, regardless of his constitutional rights as you so well detail.

    First, he dared to suggest that there is such a thing as a “nautural moral law”, which is, of course, totally consistent with the wording and sentiments of our Founders, and secondly, that such a law would correctly identify homosexual behavior as “unnatural”. Following this line of thought to its logical conclusion, that would mean that a practitioner of such behavior would be a “pervert”. Oh, I forgot; “gay” is the politically correct substitute for that ugly word, isn’t it. Darn dictionaries and Scripture anyway. Always getting me in trouble by quoting them verbatim.

    Unfortunately, in the eyes of the present world, and more specifically academia, such an outrageous opinion is worthy of not only termination, but, if only permissable, burning at the stake as well.

    Hopefully, with a little help from his friends in the legal profession, Professor Howell will prevail in his attempt to rectify this injustice, but it’s just one more sign of things to come.


  6. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Thanks, Boston Blackie.

    I’m itching to get back into it, but know that I will not be seeing sunlight for the next 18 days.


  7. Michelle Zhang says:

    Just a note. He wasn’t fired. He was an adjunct professor. This means he was a contracted professor. What they did was decide not to renew his contract.

    Not the same thing per say as firing.

  8. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Very good point, Michelle. Still, I think I could find a way to treat that, legally speaking, as the functional equivalent of a termination.

  9. SenatorMark4 says:

    We’re all temporary employees now and the loudest, shrillest, more demanding groups will soon own all the public spaces using this same kind of logic. Allahuacne.

  10. Omarosa says:

    At least Donald Trump says it like it is, “YOU’RE FIRED”.

  11. Anonymous says:

    SenatorMark4 said “Allahuacne”….

    or is that like Allah Akbar?

  12. Gail B. says:

    Well, some good news–there is no oil leaking into the Gulf. Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with Professor Howell.

    Boston Blackie Gal, you are absolutely brilliant. Thanks for your comments. I know I will always learn something from you as well as from the featured piece.

    Jeff, you will let us know when the bar exam is over, won’t you? And that you PASSED?!

  13. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Gail, the exam starts in a week, and is three days long. I will not know the results until late October. Right now, though, I’m not happy AT ALL with scores in simulated exams and practice questions. Not happy at all. Being realistic, I think there’s a better than 50% chance I’m going to need to take this thing again in February. Ugh.


  14. whats_up says:

    The problem here is that we dont have enough information in my opinion.
    1. Did he send this email to all his students, or only a select few.
    2. Did he make the statement about Morality as his own opinion or that of the Catholic Church
    3. It would be nice to see the entire email to get the entire context.

    If he sent it only to a select few students that could be a problem, depending on who they were. Also wether I agree with this or not, the University does have a right to hire whomever they wish and to renew or not renew contracts for whatever reason they choose. After all this is the Conservative viewpoint is it not?

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