The University of California, Berkeley is having a hard time making up its collective mind about Bill Maher.
On Wednesday, the school administration overrode the decision of a student group called the Californians to disinvite Maher from speaking at its commencement ceremonies in December, and re-invited the controversial talk show to the campus.
The school explained their decision in a lengthy statement, which we'll share here in full:
For many years it has been the responsibility of UC Berkeley undergraduates, through a committee known as the ‘Californians,' to select speakers for the University’s commencement ceremonies. In August the 'Californians' chose Bill Maher as the speaker for the December commencement ceremony. However, last night the ‘Californians' reconvened without administration participation and came to a decision that the invitation should be rescinded.
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.
Finally, the unfortunate events surrounding the selection of this year’s winter commencement speaker demonstrate the need to develop a new policy for managing commencement ceremonies. The new process will ensure that these events are handled in a manner commensurate with our values and enduring commitment to free speech. We will be announcing the new policy as soon as it is ready.
The Californians apparently caved to another student group, the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, which started a Change.org petition titled “Stop Bill Maher from speaking at UC Berkeley's December graduation.”
“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,” wrote petition founder Khwaha Ahmed. “Bill Maher's public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive and his dangerous rhetoric has found its way into our campus communities.”
While Maher – an outspoken atheist – routinely condemns all forms of organized religion, the petition focused primarily on his recent condemnation of Islam, drawing upon numerous examples of what they called “hate speech” such as “The Muslim world has too much in common with Isis,” “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing,” and “Dealing with Hamas is like dealing with a crazy woman who's trying to kill you. You can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”
A rep for Maher did not respond to our comment request.
Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter
Four4Four: Katie Holmes: Tom who?