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UC Berkeley students seek to block Bill Maher speech

Students allege Bill Maher's invitation should be rescinded because of statements about Islam

Comedian Bill Maher is scheduled to be the speaker at UC Berkeley’s mid-year commencement, but some students, who object to what they allege to be his anti-Muslim statements, are asking administrators to rescind the invitation.

A petition urging the university to drop Maher from the Dec. 20 event has garnered more than 1,400 signatures, according to the student newspaper The Daily Californian. The protest was started by the group and is backed by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition on campus, the paper reported.

“It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” student senator Marium Navid told the newspaper. “The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.”

The Times contacted Maher’s publicist in an attempt to reach the political satirist, author and host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  But no statement was released Monday afternoon.

The debate at UC Berkeley comes a few months after similar protests about the past activities or political views of scheduled commencement speakers led to withdrawals around the nation.

Former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau declined an invitation to speak at Haverford College in Pennsylvania because of student protests about how UC campus police roughed up Occupy activists in 2011. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined an offer to speak at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde withdrew as the commencement speaker at Smith College in Massachusetts.

UC system student regent Sadia Saifuddin, who is Muslim, told The Times that she and other students are upset by comments Maher made on his Oct. 6 show that they believe portrayed Islam as a violent faith, with the large population of Muslims believing that anyone who leaves the religion should be executed.

"I can't condone the university inviting a speaker that threatens the campus climate of our university,” Saifuddin said in an email. “I believe there is a fundamental difference between free speech and hate speech, as well as a difference between Maher being allowed to express his views, and being given the honor of giving the keynote address sponsored by the university. And as the Student Regent, I don't stand for any university-sponsored action that makes students feel unsafe and unwelcome, especially on such an important day as their commencement.” 

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