Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (AiG) was invited, then disinvited, then invited again to speak on March 5 at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in Edmond. The raging controversy that unfolded over several weeks early this semester got massive attention.
After copies of contracts made it clear UCO was “on the hook” when the speech was canceled – and after voices across the spectrum expressed outrage over what seemed like suppression of speech – Ham was put back on the campus schedule. He will anchor a day devoted not only to his topic, but to principles of free speech.
Early on, administrators asserted they did not cancel the engagement. The student body president who formally pulled the plug did not cast stones at officials. However, he said he was “attacked” and “intimidated” for having made the invitation to Ham (initially on behalf of a student group).
Ham then said on the AiG website that his group had two signed contracts.
A December 4 contract from AiG had the signature of Vice President of Student Affairs Myron Pope, while a January 18 document bore the signature of Drew Duke, an assistant vice president for administrative affairs. The latter bore the imprimatur (dated Jan. 11) of Brad Morelli, legal counsel.
As initial controversy raged, University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz sought to stem anger (http://newsok.com/uco-president-issues-statement-concerning-cancellation-of-speakers-visit/article/5582771?articleBar=1), proclaiming, “our doors are open to any who wish to express their ideas so long as student and public safety is preserved.” He also said, “Our campus community is composed of many people and organizations that offer various viewpoints on many topics. A diverse group of students posed questions about the decision to invite Mr. Ham to campus.” He said “reports that the LGBTQ community prevented Mr. Ham from being invited to campus are inaccurate and unfair to members of our campus community.”
But Stockton Duvall, the student body president who originally spiked the visit, wrote, “I want to be very clear on this, there have been members of our campus who have tried to bully me in making my decision. While none of these examples have involved any members of administration, there is definitely something that must be done to address this issue. I am not the first person to be personally attacked by a very vocal group on campus that has little tolerance for opposing viewpoints.”
Oklahoma City’s Gayly newspaper detailed that a faculty member and at least some students backed the dis-invite. Jordan Redman reported that Lindsey Churchill, Associate Professor of History and Director, Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center, said students active at the center “had a 30 minute conversation where students expressed their dismay and also reminded [student body President Stockton] of his promise to support women and the LGBTQ+ community on campus.”
Churchill continued, “The students didn’t want Ham to come to campus (or at least allow him to have a debate) in part because he has never been to a public university as far as we know. They are also upset because of how this story has been spun. There are many members of the group that are Christian and it’s been portrayed as a Christian versus lgbt issue.”
Ham had said he planned to talk about his views on creation, but would not rebuff other matters. Redman, the Gayly reporter, quoted Prof. Churchill saying,
“We don’t want someone who is not ‘research’ based and also says discriminatory things about the lgbtq community to come on campus without UCO students knowing that their student fees went to this or at least provides a counter point to debate him.” Before freedom of speech prevailed, Rachel Watson of the Student Alliance for Equality (SAFE) said that her members were not part of the dis-invite.
The original Ham spike visit drew wide criticism. James Davenport, political science professor at another tax-financed institution (Rose State College in Midwest City) said, “I think the trend of attempting to prevent those we disagree with from voicing their opinions in public is a dangerous one.”
Law Professor Andrew Spiropoulos of Oklahoma City University told this reporter, “This incident is just the latest example of the spreading plague of political censorship on college campuses. … Weak-kneed university administrators, fearing that students offended by ideas they don’t want to hear will file grievances or foment disorder, increasingly give in to these demands and pressure the sponsors of events to avoid or even dis-invite controversial speakers.”
A trio of state legislators had promised to look at UCO’s decision-making. State Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, commented, “Bullying and intimidating people to squelch free speech are disgraceful anywhere — but even more so on our college campuses.” In contrast, two legislators with close ties to UCO declined to comment as the contretemps drew national, and then international, attention.
Local criticism of the dis-invite came not only from conservatives but also from progressive voices. Lynn Green, a retired Oklahoma City public school educator, said, “I think that disinviting Hamm is the wrong strategy. Hamm gets to claim martyrdom. Better to invite and refute.”
Another passionate liberal, Carl Owen, also said the dis-invite was wrong: “I can disagree with a number of conservative positions because I’ve read them, studied them and debated them with Conservatives. And on occasion it changes or modifies my positions on issues.”
After an exchange with another reader, Owen apologized for a few harsh words aimed at Ham. He then reflected, “I’m sure he firmly believes everything he says. But I completely disagree with his scriptural approach to sexual orientation and creation. I’m 62 and I walked down the aisle of the First Baptist Church of Choctaw to accept Jesus Christ as my savior at 12. In the last half century I’ve tried to follow the simple, beautiful, direct edict of Jesus Christ as outlined in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
“I firmly believe that man’s science including the Theory of Evolution are Divinely inspired. I also firmly believe in the Constitution of the United States and peoples right to live with or without religion, any religion. I spent 20 years wearing an Army uniform doing my mediocre best to make sure that those rights exist. And I believe it’s in the students best interest that Ken Hamm be allowed to speak so they can hear his words from his mouth.”
NOTE: This report is edited from Pat’s McGuigan’s original reporting. To read his longer story, published while the controversy still unfolded, go to (http://www.capitolbeatok.com/reports/controversy-over-dis-invite-to-contracted-uco-speaker-continues).