(RNS) — Noted historian and presidential biographer Jon Meacham has been uninvited from Samford University’s inaugural celebrations for their 19th president, Dr. Beck Taylor, over concerns about his ties to Planned Parenthood.
Meacham was scheduled to speak on Nov. 3 as part of a series of lectures in the lead-up to the Nov. 4 inauguration of Taylor. However, the private Christian university in Homewood, Alabama, pulled Meacham’s lecture after a student created an online petition and a resolution was passed by the Student Government Association, both calling for his removal.
The Change.org petition, started by Samford student Emily Kirby, has garnered more than 1,000 signatures and states their request for Meacham’s removal does not have to do with the content of his lecture but, rather, his “beliefs and previous engagements.” The petition says Meacham’s involvement with Planned Parenthood does not align with the Southern Baptist-affiliated university’s stance against abortion. The resolution passed by Samford’s Student Government Association called for the event to be postponed for the same reasons.
On Oct. 6, Meacham headlined the Planned Parenthood South Texas annual luncheon. His speech reflected on the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath. He also spoke at the organization’s 2019 luncheon. Neither of these speeches addressed abortion specifically but were about divisions within the country.
In the press release announcing Meacham’s talk at Samford, which has since been deleted from the school’s website, he is described as “a skilled orator with a depth of knowledge about politics, religion, and current affairs.”
Meacham has written numerous books about American history and presidents, including biographies of George H.W. Bush and Thomas Jefferson. His book American Lion, about the life and presidency of Andrew Jackson, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in biography. In his most recent book, His Truth Is Marching On, Meacham examines how civil rights activist and longtime Congressman John Lewis’s faith in God was integral to his fight for racial equality.
The cancellation of Meacham’s lecture at Samford comes at a time when students and faculty at other Christian schools across the country are calling for more diversity and equity within their institutions.
At Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, faculty recently voted no confidence in their incoming president because of his opposition to inclusion efforts. Similarly, faculty at Seattle Pacific University in Washington voted no confidence in its board of trustees after members declined to change a policy preventing the hiring of LGBTQ people.
In a letter sent to students on Oct. 27, Taylor wrote that he is “disappointed by the narrative that has combined important conversations about pro-life issues and Mr. Meacham’s planned appearance at Samford.” While Taylor recognized the potential distraction this event would cause, he also highlighted the “importance of free expression and the exchange of ideas.”
“Our mission as a Christ-centered institution of higher learning is to stand boldly at the intersection of society and the church and to convene important conversations about how to live faithfully in the world,” wrote Taylor in his letter.
A statement provided by Holly Gainer, director of university communications at Samford, said Meacham’s lecture has been postponed and will be rescheduled.