A professor with more than forty years of employment and tenure at a Christian university in Oklahoma has sued the school for firing him over a gay guest speaker he had invited to speak to his class. The guest speaker, a former adjunct professor, is included in the lawsuit.
Michael O’Keefe and Scott Hale filed an Oklahoma County District Court complaint alleging university administrators had stained their reputations. According to them, Oklahoma Christian University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school, and its chief legal counsel Stephen Eck acted and spoke “wrongfully, intentionally, and recklessly” about the men.
O’Keefe had invited Hale to speak in front of his graphic design class last March to give a presentation that involved his resilience through personal trauma, the Oklahoma independent news site NonDoc reports.
As part of his Business of Branding Yourself class, O’Keefe would invite speakers to present on various topics to prepare students for postgraduate experiences. Throughout the stories, O’Keefe emphasizes perseverance in the face of personal hardship.
“Scott is a gay man, and he talked about how difficult it was to grow up in western Oklahoma and come to a school like Oklahoma Christian, at a time where being gay was not easy to be, if you will, publicly,” an attorney for O’Keefe told Oklahoma City NBC affiliate KFOR. “So, he told that story about just his own personal journey and really connected with the kids, not an advocacy of any type of gay rights.”
The lawsuit indicates that the presentation happened on March 1. O’Keefe was terminated on March 7, the station reports.
The university had alleged that O’Keefe committed “gross misconduct” by having Hale speak. Moreover, according to school officials, the presentation constituted conduct contrary to the school’s mission and values.
“The university will always put first the wellbeing of our students in every decision we make,” Eck told the news station at the time of O’Keefe’s firing.
On its website, Oklahoma Christian University spells out the institution’s values, including traditional marriage beliefs.
“We strive to treat our bodies with the honor due the temple of the Holy Spirit — honoring God’s plan that sexual relations be a part of a marriage between a man and a woman, dressing modestly and avoiding any self-destructive practices,” one statement reads on the website.
The university indicates that all members of its community are bound by various student, staff, and faculty handbooks.
“For the sake of our personal influence and our life together in Christian community, we also agree to certain community standards of conduct which are not specifically set forth in the Bible, but which enable the community to operate peaceably and in harmony with these principles and with one another,” the site continues.
Nowhere does the site indicate that topics of discussion that include LGBTQ+ themes or that are led by LGBTQ+ speakers violate the school’s code of conduct.