Just this: I have been reading a lot of sources on this, but it is amazing how on the key matter there are so many different formulations.
Was he fired for:
Explaining the Catholic teaching on homosexuality
Teaching (i.e. advocating) the Catholic position on homosexuality
Big difference here which few seem to be keeping in mind. In neither case would I want him to be fired, but you can understand how a secular university, like the University of Illinois, would have a problem with the second formulation.
News sources and bloggers should keep this difference in mind. I don't want to hear advocacy at a publicly funded university per se. I want reasoned debate even with professors I can't agree with on anything. I went through university subject to pro-homosexualism, pro-feminism stuff that was a waste of my time. I don't care what the prof believes. What I am paying tuition for is a more sophisticated consideration of the issues at hand. If I sign up for a Muslim studies course, I want to learn about that freakin' religion, not about how it's not good because it doesn't allow for equality among the sexes. Tell what it teaches and let me decide for myself whether it's good or bad. Dr. Howell seemed to be explaining the fact that Catholicism considers homosexuality to be unnatural. He should have been fired had he said otherwise. That is what the Church teaches. His students did not sign up for a course called "Dr. Howell's Random Thoughts on Just About Anything". Apparently they signed up for one or both of the two courses he offers there: RLST 127 Introduction to Catholicism and RLST 447 Modern Catholic Thought. Of course, it's human nature for a prof to put his own personality into it and say "I agree with the Church here." It's irrelevant to the course whether he does or not, unless he adds, "because it is evident that..." But it's not hate speech just as to tell me that you agree with Marx does not amounts to "Let's kill all the Capitalists!" and "I agree that homosexuality is natural" does not amounts to "Let's kill everyone who disagrees with this!"
But anyway. Advocacy is unacademic. Informing and stimulating thought is what we do.
Pray for Howell that he'll get what he deserves. Sounds like a good guy in a messed-up world.