I’ve been waiting for a brilliant mind to come to the defense of Kenneth J. Howell (pictured, top), the University of Chicago Catholic studies professor ousted after he emailed students about the morality of homosexuality. And here comes Bill Donohue!
Donohue (pictured below) is, easily, one of this website’s favorite pundits. The Catholic League chief compares criticizing the pope to defamation. He’s the only one bravely defending hands-y priests, who are not guilty of pedophilia but being gay. Do you see anybody else courageously battling back against these assaults on the religious freedom to touch the altar boys?
So here’s Donohue coming to the rescue of Howell, whom told his students via email, “To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the ‘woman’ while the other acts as the ‘man.’ In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don’t want to be too graphic so I won’t go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men.”
It is not a matter of debate that Kenneth J. Howell has never been informed by administrators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that he may not discuss what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about natural law and how it applies to homosexuality. Yet that was the reason this adjunct professor of religious studies was fired: His superiors objected to this teaching, and so they decided to punish the messenger. A clearer violation of academic freedom would be hard to find.
Besides academic freedom, there are the First Amendment protections afforded freedom of speech (the university is a state institution, so the Constitution is operative) and freedom of religion. Viewpoint discrimination, which is what happened in this instance, is taken very seriously by the courts. One might have thought that with all the legal rights stacked heavily in Mr. Howell’s corner, even disrespecting and censorial administrators would have decided not to pursue this case. Prudence, obviously, is not a virtue they possess. But don’t they have any lawyers on staff?
I would ask the same question of the Catholic Church — ba-dum-bum. But Donohue’s big problem isn’t with any disagreeing with Howell’s Catholic teachings, but his right to speak objectively during the course of teaching students a subject matter.
If Mr. Howell were forcing students to accept Catholic natural law teachings as the only acceptable response to the issue of homosexuality, that would be one thing. However, when he is fired for explaining this teaching in an e-mail to a student, the infraction of academic freedom and his constitutional rights is even more disturbing.
Whether the Catholic Church is right about any of its teachings should matter as much as whether the teachings of Judaism, Islam and other world religions are right. To wit: It should not matter. Marxism is taught regularly on college campuses, and often in a manner that more closely resembles indoctrination than instruction. Yet few complain. So why is it that religious teachings are treated differently?
Let’s face it: religious teachings are not really the issue this time. Nor, for that matter, is Roman Catholicism per se. No one at the University of Illinois will ever be disciplined, much less fired, for discussing the social justice teachings of papal encyclicals and their call for economic justice. Yet when it comes to challenging the conventional wisdom on homosexuality, that’s a different story altogether. Indeed, it would not matter if the source of such a perspective were purely secular. What matters is that such speech can never be tolerated.
But what speech does Donohue actually believe never can be tolerated? Blaming anyone but parents for sexually abused children in the church.