Its president cited the historic commitment of the public university to the critical and civil examination of ideas, no matter how controversial.
By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service
EDMOND, Okla. — Students at the University of Central Oklahoma got a lesson in free speech as the 16,000-student public university welcomed a presentation by Ken Ham, a nationally known creationist who rejects Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The lecture Monday by the founder of the Ark Encounter — a $102 million, 800-acre Noah’s Ark theme park that opened in Williamstown, Ky., two years ago — came weeks after the university’s student government association rescinded an invitation for Ham to speak on campus. Some students, who deem Ham homophobic, objected to student funds being used to bring him to campus.
After the student group’s decision made national headlines, UCO President Don Betz stepped in and reinvited Ham to offer his talk on “Genesis and the State of the Culture” at the public university’s Constitution Hall.
University officials also built a forum on free speech rights around Ham’s visit: two days of programming on understanding and exercising the First Amendment guarantee.
Betz cited the historic commitment of the 127-year-old university, about 15 miles north of Oklahoma City, to critical and civil examination of ideas, no matter how controversial. And ultimately, Betz funded Ham’s $4,500 fee through unrestricted donations made to the university by individuals and organizations, said Adrienne Nobles, a UCO spokeswoman.
“No tuition or state-appropriated funds were used,” Nobles said.
Ham is president of the Christian apologetics organization Answers in Genesis, which also owns the $27 million, 75,000-square-foot Creation Museum, west of the Cincinnati Airport in Petersburg, Ky.
“It never used to be controversial for a Christian to come and speak at a secular university,” Ham told Religion News Service before addressing a crowd of about 500. “But it certainly seems to be controversial today, not just for Christians — but for anyone who has conservative values — to come and speak at universities.
“We have generations today that are so secular in their thinking, and they have this idea that you have to embrace all views,” he added. “But, of course, they don’t want to embrace my view that I start with the Bible, and I have a particular worldview because of that.”
Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.
Related: ‘If Christians don’t believe in a literal Genesis, they have no foundation for their doctrine’ (reporting from Edmond, Okla.): Creationist Ken Ham discusses his belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth, what might have happened if Noah ‘had swatted those two mosquitoes’ and why he views the Bible’s opening 11 chapters as so important.