Beyond sex carnivals and drag queens: Facts appreciated in furor over disinvited campus speaker

Since I live in Oklahoma and write about religion, friends started asking me yesterday about a controversy brewing at the University of Central Oklahoma.

"Know anything about this?" said one GetReligion reader, sharing a link to an item on the Answers in Genesis website. The headline: "University Denies Free Speech to Ken Ham and Boots Him from Speaking."

Nope, I replied.

That was the first I was hearing about it.

I Googled to see if I could find any mainstream news coverage. I couldn't. But my search did turn up a column by Todd Starnes, a conservative commentator at Fox News. The headline: "Sex carnivals, drag queens are welcome, Ken Ham and other creationists are not, university says."

Starnes' take:

The University of Central Oklahoma has opened its arms to drag queen shows and safe sex carnivals but they draw the line at Christians who believe God created the Heavens and the Earth in six days.
The university apparently has no problem with students tossing dildos through cardboard vaginas, but they draw the line at exposing impressionable young minds to the teachings of a creationist.
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and founder of the popular Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, was disinvited from speaking on the public university campus after an ugly campaign of bullying by LGBT activists.

Alrighty then.

"Well, if Starnes is reporting it :-) ..." said a friend who, like me, was hoping for a more impartial source.

Suffice it to say I was pleased when I woke up this morning and found the story at top of The Oklahoman's front page:

When I saw the byline on the piece — Carla Hinton — I was confident the facts would be presented in a fair and unbiased way. Hinton is The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor. We worked together during my nine years with that newspaper, and I count her as a friend (put that under the heading of full disclosure).

The Oklahoman's lede:

EDMOND — The University of Central Oklahoma Student Association rescinded its invitation to a well-known Christian apologist to speak on campus following pressure from an LGBTQ group.
Wednesday, Stockton Duvall, UCO's student body president, said student government leaders, in partnership with a student group called Valid World Views, had asked Ken Ham to visit the campus on March 5 to share his perspectives about the science behind Darwinian ideas.
Ham is the founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky; the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky, a replica of Noah's Ark as chronicled in Genesis; and chief executive officer of the Christian creation apologetics organization Answers in Genesis.
Duvall, a junior business management major, said members of a group affiliated with the Women's Research Center/BGLTQ+ Student Center at UCO opposed Ham's visit because of his view that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Duvall said he and other student government leaders made the decision to rescind the invitation after learning of the opposition to his visit.

Hinton's opening sentence makes clear something that is buried in the Fox column: The student association, not the university, made the decision to disinvite Ham. The Oklahoman story offers more detail on that later in the story.

Joe Hight, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor who teaches journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma (and my former boss at The Oklahoman), tweeted:

Keep reading, and Hinton's story offers more details on the student government association's thinking:

Duvall said he and other student government leaders made the decision to rescind the invitation after learning of the opposition to his visit.
He spoke about being bullied and personally maligned by the group that opposed Ham's visit in a statement that he posted on Twitter and Facebook to address the issue.
"I want to be very clear on this, there have been members of our campus who have tried to bully me in my decision. While none of these examples have involved members of the 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 views," Duvall said in his statement.

One reader complained about the lack of response from a LGBTQ source:

That's a weakness of the story, I'll agree. But The Oklahoman notes:

Representatives of the group that opposed Ham's visit could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

There also is no mention of drag queen shows or sex carnivals in The Oklahoman's story, although the paper quotes Paul Blair, the pastor who said in a news release that the university has sanctioned such activities.

Was such a mention warranted? Maybe. Maybe not. It would depend on what facts the newspaper was able to confirm. Also, the question of the student government association's role or not in such events is probably relevant in determining whether there's an apples-to-apples criticism worthy of print.

I do think there's plenty of room for a follow-up story (or stories) investigating the public university's history on allowing — or not — free speech on campus. Ironically, check out the top headline on the campus newspaper's front page Tuesday (just before this controversy broke on Wednesday):

Stay tuned.

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