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UCO comes under fire after revoking Christian speaker's invitation

The University of Central Oklahoma. (KOKH/Anthony West)

A local pastor is crying foul after a University of Central Oklahoma student organization revoked an invitation to a popular Christian speaker.

It's a conversation that began last semester between executive members of the UCO Student Association and Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, a national Christian organization. Paul Blair, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, says he helped the organization contact Ham.

"The Student Government Association had contacted our student ministry to see if we would be able to help them and get Ken Ham as a speaker on the university." Blair said. “Well, Ken and I are friends, so we were glad to help."

Fairview's student ministry is known on campus as Valid Worldview.

In a statement released by Student Body President Stockton Duvall, Duvall claims the student association began contract negotiations with Ham at the request of one the school's student organizations. The request, according to Duvall, was then discussed with and approved by the school's administration.

Blair says members of a LGBTQ group on campus later expressed concern, and bullied members of UCOSA into pulling out of the deal entirely.

"It is obvious to me that this that the LGBT group led by this professor, Lindsey Churchill, intimidated, bullied, did all sorts of things to put pressure on them,” Blair claimed.

Churchill could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Duvall makes no mention of her or any group in his statement. He does, however, confirm he was bullied.

"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 said in a statement.

Blair says all he wants to see is organizations treated equally.

"If you want to have an LGBT club, fine,” he said. “Obviously, we have a Valid Worldview club, a Christian club, fine. Why can't we get any university funding but the LGBT Club basically has a blank credit card?"

Charlie Johnson, UCO's vice president for university communications, released a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“This experience reinforces our resolve to make our campus a welcoming environment for the civil expression of diverse thought. And, we will continue to support the student-centered culture we value and promote at the University of Central Oklahoma."

Duvall’s full statement:

Johnson's full statement:

The University of Central Oklahoma stands firm in its policy regarding freedom of expression. UCO is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged while keeping the safety of our community a top priority.

In the specific matter of Mr. Ham’s proposed presentation on campus, the UCO Student Association (UCOSA)—which invited Mr. Ham to speak at UCO—made the decision, via a vote of its Executive Committee, to rescind the invitation. In a statement, the UCOSA president said there was some concern and pressure expressed to him by other students and student groups that influenced that decision.

The university may advise, but does not direct, the activities of UCOSA. In fact, 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. This was prior to UCOSA’s cancellation of the invitation to Mr. Ham.

This experience reinforces our resolve to make our campus a welcoming environment for the civil expression of diverse thought. And, we will continue to support the student-centered culture we value and promote at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Ham will be speaking at 6:30 p.m. March 5 at Fairview Baptist Church.

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