Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2014
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 Change.org 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.”
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.”