UC Berkeley: We Will Not Rescind Bill Maher’s Invitation to Speak on Campus October 30, 2014

UC Berkeley: We Will Not Rescind Bill Maher’s Invitation to Speak on Campus

Last week, we learned that comedian Bill Maher was invited to deliver the commencement address at University of California, Berkeley’s winter graduation ceremony.

The problem was that students were petitioning to stop him from speaking there:

Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for. In a time where climate is a priority for all on campus, we cannot invite an individual who himself perpetuates a dangerous learning environment. Bill Maher’s public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive and his dangerous rhetoric has found its way into our campus communities. Too many students are marginalized by his remarks and if the University were to bring this individual as a commencement speaker they would not be supporting these historically marginalized communities.

It was a pointless effort from the start. Maher’s job is to share his opinions and make jokes about touchy subjects. As far as opinion-leaders go, his biggest liability is that he talks about topics (like religion) most people want to avoid at all costs. While the bigotry charge was over-the-top, the racism charge was just baseless.

More importantly, I didn’t think Maher ever created a “dangerous learning environment” by pointing out the problems with religion and those who follow it a little too devoutly. If anything, he should be commended for inviting people who disagree with him on his show.

The “Californians” were the campus group that invited Maher to speak — and they decided this week to rescind that invitation. I’m thrilled to say that UC Berkeley’s administration isn’t having it. In a public statement, they announced that Maher would be welcome on their campus:

The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech. For that reason Chancellor Dirks has decided that the invitation will stand, and he looks forward to welcoming Mr. Maher to the Berkeley campus. It should be noted that this decision does not constitute an endorsement of any of Mr. Maher’s prior statements: indeed, the administration’s position on Mr. Maher’s opinions and perspectives is irrelevant in this context, since we fully respect and support his right to express them. More broadly, this university has not in the past and will not in the future shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative.

That is how you do it. There are genuine hateful people out there; Maher isn’t in that group. He may go after sacred cows, which some people never want to criticize, but that doesn’t mean he should be disinvited from campus.

If anything, Maher just got handed new material on a silver platter. He also said on Twitter that he’ll address the controversy on his show tomorrow night.

(Image via s_bukley / Shutterstock.com. Portions of this article were published earlier)

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