The Firing of Ken Howell

Professor Ken Howell was an adjunct professor teaching a class on Catholicism for the University of Illinois. In an email explaining certain concepts, Howell used the Church’s stance on homosexuality as contrary to utilitarianism and natural moral law. An as-yet unidentified student took exception to this email and complained. As a result of an anonymous complaint, Howell was fired.

The Citizen is outraged – but far from surprised. For the past several years, the Catholic church and it’s teachings have been aggressively attacked by a secular Left that is growing in political and cultural power in the United States. For decades, Statists have sought to inculcate their beliefs in schools and colleges. They control Hollywood and many of the newspapers, newsmagazines, and television news networks. Talk radio and the internet, the only sources of information not wholly controlled by the Statists, is under attack by the Obama administration. Howell is simply the first of many people of faith who will find themselves targeted – if we don’t stop this campaign of tyranny by the minority.

Socialism is a doctrine that is inimical to Catholicism. It will not – it cannot – tolerate Catholics openly practicing in their midst. De Tocqueville once stated:

Now, the first characteristic of all socialist ideologies is, I believe, an incessant, vigorous and extreme appeal to the material passions of man.

Why? Well, because the State can easily control the appetites of the flesh. It can regulate, legalize, and tax alcohol, tobacco, gambling, prostitution, sexual activities (access to abortions and birth control), conspicuous consumption…even fast food. The state  – through the institution of Johnson’s ‘Great” Society – provides shelter, food, and a modicum of care for those unable or unwilling to provide for themselves. You see, decades of quiet socialist machinations has created the very state de Tocqueville described. Now that they have realized power – anyone who argues that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi are not ardent believers in the power of a strong socialized government is being disingenuous – they have emerged from the shadows and have begun to flex the iron fist. Need an example? How about Donald Berwick, who openly admitted to be an ardent supporter of socialist institutions – and rationing care, but that’s an argument for another day.

To illustrate my charge, the Citizen offers another passage from De Tocqueville’s Criticism of Socialism:

Now, a third and final trait, one which, in my eyes, best describes socialists of all schools and shades, is a profound opposition to personal liberty and scorn for individual reason, a complete contempt for the individual. They unceasingly attempt to mutilate, to curtail, to obstruct personal freedom in any and all ways. They hold that the State must not only act as the director of society, but must further be master of each man, and not only master, but keeper and trainer. For fear of allowing him to err, the State must place itself forever by his side, above him, around him, better to guide him, to maintain him, in a word, to confine him. They call, in fact, for the forfeiture, to a greater or less degree, of human liberty, to the point where, were I to attempt to sum up what socialism is, I would say that it was simply a new system of serfdom.

TARP is an example of government interference. The Citizen is quite aware that Bush instituted TARP, but no one can argue that the Obama administration took it to new and unplanned levels of intervention.  The stimulus plan – which many economists claim had little, no, or adverse effect – is another example of government tampering. The Patient Care and Affordable Health Care Act is yet another. These are all examples of the State causing elements of society to dance to the tune of the government. Think about it – the auto industry, investment banking, the health care industry, and millions of poor….all subservient under this ‘new system of serfdom.’

How can I link the firing of a professor with this socialist revolution? Catholic theology and practice calls us to be focused on the life of the spirit. It is critical of “the material passions” of man. The Church believes in the direct responsibility of all Catholics to tend to the needy. Socialism abrogates and dehumanizes the process of helping the needy. Personal service is replaced by paid bureaucrats, administrators, and service providers, paid through the collection of taxes. Catholics – and all citizens – can ignore their obligations with a shrug and a belief that ‘the government will take care of those people.’ Why support Catholic Charities? The government has programs. Why support the soup kitchens, shelters, crisis pregnancy centers, and Catholic hospitals? Let the government do it – that’s why we pay taxes, right?

No. The Constitution provided a framework for limited government. A framework abused by decades of ‘progressive reforms’. Socialist institutions have been championed as necessary and issues of social justice. The current leadership is blatant in it’s socialist ideals when they insist that their job is to make sure that the rich are forced to ‘share the wealth’. This isn’t in the Constitution. And coercing money from those who earned it to distribute to those people government sees fit to receive their largesse is not what America is supposed to stand for.

The reason Professor Howell was fired was on the basis of one student’s anonymous complaint to the University. The charge? The commission of a ‘hate crime.’ The concept of the Hate Crime as a violation of federal law has changed over the years. Originally it was designed to provide a means of ensuring that violent crimes committed on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin would carry a federal penalty. In short, it was a counterbalance to permissive Jim Crow states.  The new act allows for punishment for ‘verbal abuse’ against a variety of classes of people – gay, lesbian, and transgender people among them.

HR 1913, a bill that the leadership knew was going to die, was passed by appending it to the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, includes the terms “Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity” – ambiguous terms that the authors of the bill have refused to define.  It places those descriptions on par with race, color, religion and nationality. Professor Howell criticized what could be a ‘protected’ class under this law. In doing so, he has opened himself up to state and federal penalties that could include fines and possibly a prison sentence. While this is unlikely, the wording of this law is so vague as to allow these possibilities. Certainly, the University considered this a violation of their sensibilities and barred Professor Howell from teaching classes for the University’s Religion Department.

Howell’s ‘hate crime’? This email, explaining the concepts of natural moral law and utilitarianism, was enough to ensure his dismissal. While he is critical of homosexuality, he is doing so in the context of Catholic teaching and in a manner consistent with the theories he illustrated. One would think that he would be protected under the time-honored concept of Academic Freedom. This concept protects instructors by providing them the freedom to teach controversial subjects as they pertain to their subject matter. I challenge anyone to justify dismissing Howell if the shield of academic freedom is fairly employed.

Good luck. The concept of Academic Freedom is detailed in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Professor Howell responded to the dismissal in this letter. It’s interesting that he notes that this semester, he had students demonstrate  the most “…vociferous reaction that I have ever had. It
seemed out of proportion to all that I had known thus far.” The Citizen has been in classes where students signed up to ‘bait’ the professor for a variety of reasons. One history professor I knew confided that his perspectives on several historical issues has resulted in frequent complaints. As a person who shared some of his views, I was frequently vilified and abused by militant students who confused the concept of dialog and dissent with carte blanche to impose the will of the minority on the majority. As a professional teacher, I often find that my conservative values and religious beliefs make me the butt of jokes and ridicule from others.

It’s perfectly acceptable under the law to abuse Catholics and people who promote their values – we’re not protected under the Shepard Act. By that, the Citizen means that legitimate criticism of behaviors contrary to our beliefs is not exempt from the ‘hate speech’ provisions of this law. This act is yet another tool in the socialist’s bag of tricks. They cannot afford to let us flourish among them. They must use the laws they have twisted to seek us out and remove us from positions of authority and responsibility.

Perhaps the most disconcerting element of this sordid tale is that the accuser remained anonymous. A professor with some ten years standing at the University – ten years without blemish – is dismissed on the weight of one complaint. One anonymous complaint. One coward in the dark who has taken a man’s job and sought to besmirch his reputation. The concept of anonymity is designed to protect people from future repercussions. Is this a legitimate use of this doctrine – or like the Shepard Act – twisting of a good law into something quite different?

In the end, I believe that Professor Howell will find a position teaching Catholicism in some other institution. In fact, this event may even advance his career. I am sure that there are Catholic colleges and universities that want a man with the level of scholarship, devotion to the Magisterium, and courage that Kenneth Howell has demonstrated.

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