[Updated Saturday, 12:11 p.m.]
The University of California, Berkeley, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement this fall, but some students aren’t happy having an outspoken free-speech advocate on campus. Following news Tuesday that Bill Maher has been tapped to deliver the keynote address at UC Berkeley’s graduation in December, critics of the liberal, antireligious rabble-rouser launched a petition this week demanding that the school reconsider.
“Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for,” wrote the petitioner, identified on Change.org as Khwaja Ahmed of Irvine. “In a time where climate is a priority for all on campus, we cannot invite an individual who himself perpetuates a dangerous learning environment.”
The petition follows a much-debated segment on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” in which the host sparred with “Gone Girl” actor Ben Affleck over radical Islam, arguing that fundamentalist views are commonly held in Muslim communities, not the exception as Affleck asserted.
Maher, an avowed atheist, made the 2008 movie "Religulous" and often criticizes organized religion on the late-night program, but this segment went particularly viral, attracting more than 1.2 million views on YouTube, and dominating cable news panels earlier this month. In the clip, Maher said liberals should stand up for principles like free speech, but not everyone bought his argument.
As of Friday morning, the petition on Change.org has attracted more than 700 signatures, with many commenters identifying themselves as current and former students of Berkeley and other UC schools. “As an alumni I can’t let the future generation of Cal Bears be tainted by false information, ignorance, and racist views,” one person wrote.
The school’s official newspaper, the Daily Californian, announced Tuesday that Maher will speak at the school’s graduation ceremony on Dec. 20.
A spokeswoman for UC Berkeley said the school’s student organization, the Californians, selects the December commencement speakers and that the decision to have Maher as speaker was made in August. “The group is aware of the concerns raised,” the spokeswoman said.
The campus is the site of the Free Speech Movement, a historic student protest that began in 1964. On the 50th anniversary of that event, some free-speech advocates have been calling on the school to further loosen policies that regulate campus speech.
Read the full petition here.
This post has been updated with input from the school.