STUDENTS at Oxford University have demanded that a Roman Catholic professor be sacked for allegedly denouncing homosexuality in his writings.
At least 350 backers signed a petition calling for law professor John Finnis to be fired, citing a "a long record of extremely discriminatory views against many groups of disadvantaged people" including the gay community.
However, Oxford has rejected the students' petition and supported the 78-year-old's right to academic freedom.
Prof Finnis, who teaches as emeritus professor of law and legal philosophy at University College, responded to the petition by claiming there was "not a 'phobic' sentence" in all of his published works.
He told The Oxford Student newspaper: "The petition travesties my position, and my testimony in American constitutional litigation.
"Anyone who consults the Law Faculty website and follows the links in the petition can see the petition's many errors.
"I stand by all these writings. There is not a 'phobic' sentence in them."
Professor Finnis is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on the philosophy of natural law and once mentored right-wing US judge Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed to the US Supreme Court by President Donald Trump in 2017.
His Collected Essays, published in 2011, included a claim he made in a 1994 paper that gay relationships are "never a valid, humanly acceptable choice and form of life".
Homosexuality is "destructive of human character and relationships", he wrote, because "it treats human sexual capacities in a way which is deeply hostile to the self-understanding of those members who are willing to commit themselves to real marriage".
Finnis is also said to have compared being gay to bestiality, writing in another essay that homosexuality "treats human bodily life, in one of its most intense activities, as appropriately lived as merely animal".
The same paper adds: "The deliberate genital coupling of persons of the same sex is repudiated for a very similar reason."
Students argued the professor had to be removed from teaching as his role "puts a hugely prejudiced man in a position of authority".
But in a statement, Oxford University said the institution had rejected their petition because academic debate "does not amount to harassment".
A university spokesperson said: "Oxford University and the Faculty of Law promote an inclusive culture, which respects the rights and dignity of all staff and students.
"We are clear we do not tolerate any form of harassment of individuals on any grounds, including sexual orientation.
"Equally, the university's harassment policy also protects academic freedom of speech and is clear that vigorous academic debate does not amount to harassment when conducted respectfully and without violating the dignity of others.
"All of the university’s teaching activity, including that in the Faculty of Law, is conducted according to these principles."