EDMOND, Okla. — The student body president at the University of Central Oklahoma says that a “very vocal group” recently tried to bully him to cancel Christian apologist Ken Ham’s appearance at the school, and while he did ultimately decide to cancel the event for various reasons, he said he would “not allow any more intimidation” going forward.
Ham, who leads Answers in Genesis and its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, was scheduled to appear at the university’s Constitution Hall on March 5 to speak on “Genesis and the State of the Culture.” The appearance was reportedly a request of one of the student organizations, and the UCO student association helped to work out a contract as a sponsor.
However, according to Student Body President Stockton Duvall, some students expressed objection to Ham’s upcoming talk at the university.
“Many did this respectfully, while some did not,” he wrote in an explanatory letter on Tuesday.
The student association had purposed to continue with the event anyway, and Duvall said that Answers in Genesis was advised of the matter “in hopes that the presentation could take them into consideration.”
But, “[a]s this dialogue continued, the organization we partnered with chose to end the partnership on the Ken Ham event,” Duvall outlined. “I take responsibility that their decision was made, in part, due to a lack of communication on my part.”
“At that point, the UCOSA executive board felt it was best not to move forward with the event due to uncertainty of what could happen at the event,” he explained, noting that the decision came down to him and that he was not able to personally be in attendance.
However, Duvall also noted that there was a campus group that attempted to push him into cancelling Ham.
“I want to be very clear on this,” he wrote. “There have been members of our campus who have tried to bully me in making my decision. While none 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.”
“The culture of allowing this group to bully both individual students and organizations on our campus ends now,” Duvall continued. “I will not allow any more intimidation to be directed toward our campus community from this point forward.”
He said that he would work with the administration in the future to ensure that the free exchange of ideas can take place on campus without intimidation.
“I look forward to learning from this experience and working with our community to make our campus [a] better place for the free exchange of different ideas and viewpoints.”
Charlie Johnson, vice president for university communications, also told Baptist Press, “In the spirit of the UCO policy on freedom of expression, the university president, provost and the vice president of student affairs supported and did not deny the proposal to bring Mr. Ham to campus to encourage conversation and debate of diverse perspectives.”
Ham and his commented on the matter this week as well, lamenting that “religious liberty in America is under increasing attack by some very intolerant people.”
“In this case of discrimination, I find it highly ironic that after being scheduled to speak in the school’s Constitution Hall, our constitutional right to free speech and the free exercise of religion, guaranteed under the First Amendment, have been denied with the school’s cancellation,” he stated. “… Apparently, free speech at UCO is protected only if it is the ‘right kind’ of speech.”
Since his appearance at the university has been cancelled, Ham will instead speak at Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, whose pastor, Paul Blair, had worked with the UCO organization to help bring Ham to the campus. Admission to the March 5 event will be free and limited to the first 500 people.
Blair outlined in a statement that it was “a tenured professor, who serves as sponsor of the campus LGBT clubs” who “rallied support” from others to put pressure on the student association to cancel the scheduled appearance.
“The irony is, the groups promoting ‘tolerance’ are the most intolerant forces on campus,” Blair lamented.
He noted that a drag queen event had been held on the campus without issue, and that the same professor who complained about Ham has been a sponsor of a “safe sex carnival”—an event that had content too explicit to repeat.