In a move that's being celebrated as a win for freedom of speech, Ken Ham, president of the Kentucky-based Answers in Genesis Young Earth apologetics ministry, delivered a protest-free presentation on the ideas of Charles Darwin at the University of Central Oklahoma Monday after opposition from LGBT activists forced a short-lived cancellation of the event.
"It's a win for freedom of speech. It's a win for the First Amendment," Ham told Oklahoma's News 4 at the event Monday.
Stockton Duvall, president of UCO's student body which invited Ham to speak on campus, said during the controversy over the apologist's planned appearance that he was bullied by an LGBT activist group into canceling the event.
Lindsey Churchill, director of the Women's Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center, said members of her group were concerned about Ham's biblical belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
"They didn't know that their funds were paying for this speaker, who they see as homophobic — was able to come to this school without them knowing," Churchill said. "I think that's the biggest issue."
"The University of Central Oklahoma as a social institution is historically committed to the critical examination of ideas and people conducted in a civil manner. By exposure to new ideas, no matter how controversial, we are able to winnow and sift the wheat from the chaff and gain new insights," Betz said in a statement last month.
On Monday, Ham presented "Genesis and the State of Culture," an examination of the ideas of Charles Darwin. He was also joined by AiG faculty member Georgia Purdom for a Q&A session.
Ham told KOCO News 5 Monday that he was surprised he faced backlash for sharing his Christian worldview at a public university.
"Anyone who is a conservative speaker or Christian, we're finding the free speech, free exercise of religion is sort of being curtailed in the secular universities. So then I thought, 'What? Oklahoma too?'" he said.
When asked to share his position on same-sex marriage, he noted that he supports the biblical view of marriage but respects others who do not share his view.
"I would say as a Christian, because I start with the Bible, I have a worldview that says marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Now, if somebody doesn't have that foundation and they don't believe the Bible like I do, I totally understand why they have a different view in regard to marriage," he said.
"They don't have to come and listen. A lot of these people have never heard me speak anyway, so how about letting me speak and you can analyze what I say from there?" he added.
Student Kennedy Jackson told Oklahoma's News 4 she thought Ham should never have been invited to speak at the school.
"I just think they shouldn't have asked him to come because nobody wants that type of negativity," she said.
"He's not for same-sex marriage. If you're not for it, just keep it to yourself. He can come here and talk about anything he wants, just keep that stuff to himself," she argued in defense of suppressing speech.
Other students like Joseph Stonehocker, however, disagreed.
"At college, we're here to expand our learning and everything like that. So if we didn't hear both sides, what's the point of being here?" he asked. "If we didn't have other viewpoints, then we wouldn't have a good college."
Ham added that he hopes the controversy over his right to speak will be used as a teaching moment.