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Atheists defend Catholic professor

Posted by Richard on July 19, 2010

The University of Illinois has fired a Catholic professor of religion for letting it be known that he agrees with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Among those coming to his defense is an atheist and agnostic student group:

Faculty and students are rallying behind a University of Illinois professor whom they say was fired simply because of his religious beliefs.

Dr. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism, was told recently that he could no longer teach in the university's Department of Religion. A student at the university accused Howell of engaging in hate speech when he stated in a class review session that he agreed with the Church's teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

According to The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the complaining student wasn't enrolled in Howell's class.

But Howell refused to leave without a fight, and now he has over 3,100 supporters fighting with him — via a Facebook group called "Save Dr. Ken."

"It's turning into a whole movement for freedom of speech in the classroom," said senior Tim Fox, a member of the group and former resident at the university's Catholic student Newman Center.

… 

Students at the center are not the only ones protesting. The campus secularist group, Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers, has taken up Howell's cause. Howell had worked with the group in the past, helping organize a public debate between an atheist and a Catholic on "Does the Christian God Exist?" last February. Its president wrote a letter to the university chancellor, Robert Easter, saying, "[Howell] has shown a commitment to the questioning of all ideas. His loss is a profound blow to the University of Illinois and its purpose… Who will next be silenced?" 

Other students said Howell's dismissal was not just an issue of freedom of speech, but revealed a double standard at the university.

"Professor Howell didn't mean to insult homosexuals; he was just stating the Catholic position," said Mike Hamoy, a senior chemistry major who took Howell's class in fall 2009. "I've had multiple professors who have mocked how much Catholic families reproduce or who have implied to the class that God is a joke. Why aren't these professors fired for their open insults?"

The FIRE is intervening in the case, as it does countless times every year in defense of free speech on campus. It has a great record of success, but speech suppression and political correctness run amok are rampant on America's campuses, and there is no shortage of outrageous cases for them to address. The FIRE deserves your support.  

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