More on the deplatforming of Ken Ham: Let the bigoted creationist speak!

Yesterday I discussed how creationist and evangelical Christian Ken Ham (creator of the Ark Park and Creation Museum) had been disinvited from the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), where he was supposed to talk on March 5 about “Genesis and the State of the Culture.” It should come as no surprise that I’m vehemently opposed to his creationism, to his lying to children (and everyone else) at his two attractions, and to his odious, anti-gay, anti-abortion politics.  Nevertheless, once he was invited, and had agreed to speak, it amounts to censorship to rescind his invitation. (UCO is also a public university, which brings in First Amendment considerations.)

A lot of the readers’ problems with my stand had to do with whether Ham was invited to UCO through proper channels. My efforts to find out—and I’ve tried—haven’t clarified that. What we do know is that the invitation was extended by the president of the student government, formalized by the University administrators and signed off by their legal counsel (see below), and then the university withdrew it after protest. I don’t know if the student president, Stockton Duvall, was doing a sneaky end run around normal procedure. We do know that after a group of students from the UCO Women’s Research Center and the BGLTQ+ Center—as well two administrators—met with Duvall, he said he was “bullied” into suspending contract negotiations. It’s not clear, though, whether Duvall himself withdrew the invitation or, as the Associated Press reports, “the university cancelled the planned speech.”

But to me it doesn’t matter, especially in view of the fact that a speaking contract was extended to Ham, and he put it on his Answers in Genesis website. I reproduce it below. Note that it’s signed not only by a Vice President of UCO, but stamped by the University’s Legal Counsel. Here’s the contract and its rider:

You will note that it isn’t signed by Ham; apparently they were still working out the details of the appearance when the university (or student body) withdrew the invitation. It’s thus not a legal contract, but to me that doesn’t matter, either. It’s an invitation, and the right thing to do, regardless of whether it’s a legal imperative, is to let Ham speak. That’s what universities are supposed to do.

As of now Ham’s talk has been moved to a local Baptist church, but were I Ham—and I thank Ceiling Cat I’m not!—I’d sign that contract and return it pronto, which may give him grounds for a freedom of speech suit. (Note too that they were going to give him $4,500, which is a lot of dosh to give someone like Ham, but so be it.)

What’s happened now is that UCO looks bad and censorious, and Ham gets to beef about Christians being suppressed. To avoid this, all UCO had to do was let him talk.  Even if they had no legal obligation to do that, in light of the invitation above they had the ethical obligation to. And there is no downside I can see to letting him speak on campus. As I wrote yesterday:

My view is that even if the invitation was done on the sly, if it had some kind of student and university approval, students should still have voted to allow Ham to speak, even given his odious views on gay rights and same-sex marriage, not to mention evolution. If only speakers who approve of the Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+’s views were allowed to speak, that amounts to limiting what students can hear to a set of ideologically approved positions. Why not let the students hear not only the arguments against evolution, but the religious arguments against gay marriage? What’s to lose? Are they afraid that Ham will actually change students’ minds, making them oppose gay marriage and reject evolution? If so, then they don’t value open discussion of controversial issues and don’t trust the judgement of students. The fact is that evolution, though opposed by many Americans, will become more widely accepted as American becomes more secular, and gay marriage is already a settled issue in law.

. . . The limitation of what one is allowed to hear is one downside of such deplatforming. The other downside is that Ham now gets to trumpet that his views, and Christianity in general, are being persecuted, making him look like a victim of the Left. And he’s already doing that.

This appears to have been handled badly by nearly everyone connected with UCO. It’s probably too late to re-extend the invitation, but they should have done the right thing once the contract was sent out: let the bigoted creationist speak!


  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Let the man talk. What in tarnation is wrong with these people?

    • Posted February 14, 2018 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      45 minutes of Q and A in which you can (metaphorically) roast him afterwards. Why would you not let him come?

  2. Brujo Feo
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    From the lawyer’s POV, the University is master of it’s offer; it can be withdrawn at any time before acceptance. So if it had not already been accepted by Ham before being rescinded, there’s no ground for a breach-of-contract action. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that there might not be an actionable oral contract; I don’t want to go into all of the complexities of the “contract to make a contract” argument, but it’s possible.

    My real question is this: if the UCO Women’s Research Center and the BGLTQ+ Center and whoever else wanted to protest this, why didn’t they do it BEFORE the invitation was extended? Aside from how this comes across as a P.R. nightmare, constantly fighting these rear-guard actions is draining and counter-productive.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      “its…” GACK.

    • Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      This may be the sleazy part of the invite: they apparently didn’t KNOW it was extended. Whether they should have been informed, or were required to be informed through student government, is not known to me.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the clarification. You’d think that they might have seen this coming, but to be fair, if there were even an informal referendum before inviting speakers, these days you have to wonder if ANYONE is non-controversial enough to avoid a battle.

        • d McCallum
          Posted February 14, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          Mr. Duvall said the invitation was ‘leaked’ ‘before the contract was signed.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Christ, I don’t know much more about contracts than a layman, but from what I do recall from law school and my clerkship, there’re a lot of exceptions to the basic contract requirements of offer, acceptance, & exchange of consideration.

      A Yale law professor wrote a book about it that was a big deal back in those days, The Death of Contract (which I figured was a play on Roland Barthes famous essay “The Death of the Author,” which itself was a play on Thomas Mallory’s Arthurian stories Le Mort d’Arthur, which reminds me why I’d rather read literature than contracts). 🙂

    • Posted February 13, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been sent the student newspaper, which has more than ten pages of coverage. Apparently (I haven’t read it yet), the signer (Ham) has 60 days to respond, and only after that does the contract become invalid. We’re well within that sixty-day window.

      • Derek Freyberg
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Caution: my contract law is, like Ken Kukec’s, pretty old.
        The contract allows either party to terminate an executed contract on 60 days’ notice; and that wouldn’t be achievable with the scheduled date of the speech.
        But the contract itself does not offer Ham a 60 day window in which to accept and during which the offer cannot be withdrawn – as Brujo Feo said above, as a general principle of contract law UCO can withdraw it at any time before it is accepted, and once that withdrawal is communicated to Ham, he has no right to accept it.

    • Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      My real question is this: if the UCO Women’s Research Center and the BGLTQ+ Center and whoever else wanted to protest this, why didn’t they do it BEFORE the invitation was extended?

      Because they were still working to achieve universal consensus via the hand jive.

  3. glen1davidson
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Give Ken Ham the opportunity to discredit himself! (But for less money)

    Glen Davidson

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Jerry. The ideas of people like Ken Ham are ridiculously easy to rebut and expose for the rubbish they are.

    At the moment, Ham has the moral high ground and is the victim. There will be students who sympathize with the Christian martyr aspect of his victimhood.

    Let him speak. Use the Q&A to show up the errors and illogic in his ideas. It won’t change Ham, but it might get some of those students who have been brought up in an extremist Christian atmosphere to start to think about their assumptions.Stopping Ham from speaking is just going to cement them further in their screwed up world view.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      I also largely agree with Professor CC; but if in fact proper procedures were not followed by the students’ president, then other students surely have every right to object, particularly since that huge honorarium for what anyone who bothers to pick up a book or two must realise is rubbish is being paid, willy-nilly, out of their pockets; another matter is that unless some sort of stink is raised, a precedent is being created whereby any student president may invite whoever she or he likes without proper consultation – unless the university puts its foot down and says that since in this case a contract has been issued, the speech should go on, but in future any student president is required to provide evidence that proper procedures have been followed before the university will permit such speeches.

      Incidentally, the ‘notify me of new comments via email’ does not seem to be working in my case, since I neither get the follow-up e-mail asking me to confirm whether I want to be informed of new comments, or any e-mails informing me whether there are new comments. This seems a bit odd…

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

        I agree other students have a right to object, whether or not proper processes were followed. I just have a problem with the university caving to the protests.

        You’re right that anyone can find out Ham’s comments are rubbish just by reading a book, but unfortunately most people don’t do that. Ham’s followers are unlikely to pick up a book that opposes his views, but they will go and listen to him speak. At that point they will hear the arguments against his rubbish, perhaps for the first time, and he will be exposed for having clay feet.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

          No, I agree with you about the university caving, particularly if proper procedures were followed. But if proper procedures were not followed, then that student president needs to hauled over the coals both by fellow students and by the university administration, and steps need to be taken to ensure that the same kind of thing does not happen in the future.

          I often wonder, incidentally, why talks seem to be thought of as somehow better than books, particularly where difficult subjects are concerned.

          • d McCallum
            Posted February 14, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

            If everything was on the up and up why did they cave without a fight??

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted February 14, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think talks are better than books, and that’s not what I said. I think some people are more likely to go to a talk than read a book.

            And people have a right to protest peacefully at any point imo, not just if Ham was invited surreptitiously or not following proper processes. If things were done correctly, they don’t have a right to have their protests change anything.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted February 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

              Dear Heather, I was not for one minute implying that you suggested talks were better than books. I was simply wondering aloud why it is that in many people’s eyes (not yours) talks (and debates) seem to be regarded as necessarily having some sort of magical ability to impart correct views into people’s minds, particularly where difficult or controversial matters are concerned.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted February 16, 2018 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

                Thanks Tim Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  5. Simon Hayward
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    That’s a heck of an honorarium, even though he has to cover his expenses. And then he gets a book sale thrown in. Wow.

  6. Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    Free speech is a two-way street.

  7. Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    He redacted his phone number but it’s easy to find on the Internet along with his address. There’s a high probability that this is the correct person because Wikipedia confirms that his full name is Kenneth Alfred Ham.

  8. Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    A signed contract is not required to bind an agreement, only: offer + acceptance + consideration. The offer was made; Ham signified acceptance; Ham extended consideration by adjusting his schedule, making travel arrangements, announcing it, etc. The university is in breach of contract.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Look…I really don’t want to turn this into a bar exam question, especially as I first stated that arguments could be made both ways.

      That being said, I don’t see how “Ham extended consideration by adjusting his schedule, making travel arrangements, announcing it, etc.,” is consideration (which would have to go to the U. itself, or a designated third-party beneficiary). This seems more like a “justifiable reliance” argument.

      And irrelevant (as was my original comment–sorry) to the point that even absent legal duty, there are a lot of reasons why handling things this was is just plain bad for business.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        “way.” Damn, but my typing sucks today, and my proofreading is worse.

      • Posted February 14, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        I saw your points after posting, and I get them. Now, if Ham, say, passed on another paying gig for this one, would not that be consideration on his part?

  9. Barney
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s not a question of “letting him speak”; it’s a question of whether they should pay him. Given that there’s every expectation he’ll lie to them, and quite possibly be offensive too (since “culture” is the subject), it seems very reasonable to object to the students’ money being wasted by their president.

    If creationist students want to pay for him themselves, that would be another matter.

  10. Matt
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Letting him speak and paying him to speak are two different things.

  11. rjdownard
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Holy Moly, Ham offered $4500 bucks for that, I’d be thrilled with a tenth of that. Yipes. And only 45 minutes of Q@A after an hour long boilerplate speech? What was needed was a much longer Q@A and an informed body of questioners to make the most of it, armed with source methods knowledge of all Ham’s many ignorance holes, so that all present could have seen him flail in his inevitable non-answers. But the college shall be spared such a potentially informative spectacle.

  12. Chris Swart
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    a deals a deal, especially in an area that might be (will be)construed as a free speech issue.

    • Matt
      Posted February 14, 2018 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Contract wasn’t signed and no money changed hands; no quid pro quo so no deal.

  13. eric
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    If the student government extended the invitation, then the student government has the right to withdraw it. Is it a spineless cave in? Yes. Do they have the right to do it? Yes.

    It’s probably too late to re-extend the invitation, but they should have done the right thing once the contract was sent out: let the bigoted creationist speak!

    Does UCO have a free speech club or first amendment club or anything like that? I think we can expect that UCO student government won’t do the right thing in the face of pressure. But AFAIK there’s nothing to prevent another student group from stepping in, acting as host, heck even taking the now-defunct reservation and holding the same talk in the same room on the same date.

  14. Sastra
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I’m curious about how the Creationists are reacting to Jerry siding with Ham on this particular issue. Generally speaking, they always seem to view their opposition as an undifferentiated block of evil predictability. The “Free Speech Enemy of the Year (or whatever the hell the title was)” isn’t following script. Have they noticed? Or, less likely, have they grudgingly granted any credit?

  15. Posted February 14, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Back when I was a schoolteacher we had the Answers in Guinesses crowd come to talk at my school to the 6th form (16-18 year olds). Ham wasnt there himself but his representatives were. My students made utter (polite) mincement of them (to my everlasting priude and joy). This is a tremendous learning opportunity. It shows how we can get on civily with people we profoundly disagree with, and gives practice at argument and debate. It gave the students huge confidence too.

  16. d McCallum
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    “Why not let the students hear not only the arguments against evolution, but the religious arguments against gay marriage?”

    In central Oklahoma I suspect everyone hears enough of these arguments. Ham is not a controversial speaker offering a different point of view. Not a reason to de-platform but a good reason not to spend $4500

  17. Posted February 15, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    This contract *looks* like it is between the university and Ham, not between a student club and Ham. Doesn’t that change the status of the first amendment considerations?

    Also, I think the procedural matters are the point – if the students protesting stick to that maybe that’s the way to go.

  18. tomh
    Posted February 15, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like it will make a lot people here happy to know that University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz said he has invited Ham to make his presentation on “Genesis and the State of the Culture” on campus on March 5, the date Ham was originally supposed to visit the campus before his invitation to speak there was rescinded.

    Sounds like, after all the publicity, the right-wing Oklahoma legislature put the pressure on Betz to bring Ham in.

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