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Bill Maher will keep his speaking date at UC Berkeley despite furor

Political satirist Bill Maher has a message for UC Berkeley on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement on that campus: He intends to deliver a December commencement address at the school despite the controversy surrounding his invitation.

"I want to come, I'm planning to come," the comedian said Friday night on his "Real Time with Bill Maher" show on HBO.

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Some students last week sought to have his invitation rescinded because of his on-air remarks last month that they allege denigrated Muslims. But, citing free speech rights, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks then ruled that Maher's address could go on as planned.

Maher kept quiet publicly about the situation for a few days. Then on Friday's show, he delivered a lengthy riff about the issue, explaining that he was at first delighted to accept the invitation to speak at the midyear commencement on Dec. 20. "I'm happy to because although I never attended Berkeley, I was very aware of their place in the American debate on the far left," he said.

"They invited me because it was the 50th anniversary of something that is legendary on that campus, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement," he said, referring to influential student protests against rules that limited on-campus activism. "I guess they don't teach irony in college anymore."

Maher insisted that he was not a bigot and defended his past comments about how many Muslims around the world believe that people who leave that religion should be executed. He said that students and others who signed an online petition to have his speech canceled don't seem to understand the open nature of universities and a democratic society: "That's how it's done, kids. Whoever told you you only had to hear what didn't upset you?"

His only regret, he said, was that he feared the speech might prompt a media blitz that day that could detract from the graduation festivities.

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