My mind is being blown. The Illinois Family Institute and several atheists are on the same side of a controversial issue.
The issue is that Dr. Kenneth Howell, a professor at the University of Illinois, taught a class on Catholicism. He’s Catholic himself, but that’s irrelevant.
How did U of I officials respond?
According to Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, “‘the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us.'”
As PZ says, Howell’s speech wasn’t hate speech. It was stupid speech. But as long as he wasn’t penalizing students for disagreeing — and he stated he wasn’t — then who cares.
The Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers at the University of Illinois are on his side:
Full disclosure: Dr. Howell is in my reckoning, a friend and ally of AAF. It is thanks to him we were able to put on a major debate last spring and hoped to do the same in the coming year. In spite of all our differences Dr. Howell and AAF are both committed to the open and free discussion of all topics of merit. We are equally committed to freedom of speech and to the virtue of public debate. We each see the university has a special place a nation should set aside for the free exchange of all ideas — offensive to some or otherwise. A campus is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not an exercise in authoritarian squelching of unpopular voices.
What is happening here is not an isolated incident. This is the same university which only a couple years ago fired two editors of its supposedly protected free-speech paper after they reprinted cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. This is the same school that only months ago accused AAF of intolerance for protesting Islamic extremism. This is not just about the fate of Dr. Howell, but the degree to which we will allow any one ideology to control what we can say. What’s happening here, now is wrong. It is not too late.
I hope people do write in to defend him. We as atheists ought to support freedom of speech even if it’s speech we find abhorrent.
The Illinois Family Institute is on Howell’s side, too. As usual, though, they can’t seem to write a press release that deals with homosexuality without comparing it to incest and polyamory.
If professor A were to express her belief that adult consensual incest is immoral, would she be fired because her belief constitutes hatred of those involved in incest and therefore violate the university’s Orwellian policy of inclusivity?
If professor B were to express his belief that polyamory is immoral, would he be fired because his belief constitutes — in the university’s omniscient, omnipotent mind — hatred of polyamorists and therefore violates its standards of inclusivity?
Have U of I’s standards of “inclusivity” become the de facto arbiter of morality for the entire faculty, determining which moral beliefs about behaviors are acceptable and which are not? It might behoove the university to spell out which beliefs are included under their policy of inclusivity — and which are excluded — because some employees might foolishly assume that the university’s standards of inclusivity would include Catholics.
Give them credit. They left pedophilia off the list. It’s like they’re slowly learning…
But even IFI is right that U of I is making the wrong decision.
Howell doesn’t deserve to lose his job over this.