More than 2,500 people have signed a petition protesting Bill Maher's appearance at Cal's December commencement. Photo: Bill Maher
More than 2,500 people have signed a petition protesting Bill Maher’s appearance at Cal’s December commencement. Photo: Bill Maher

Update: Oct. 30. The Chancellor has determined Maher will speak. See our update here.

The selection of TV host Bill Maher to deliver a December commencement address at UC Berkeley has come under fire from people who believe his views on Islam are racist.

More than 2,500 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking that the university withdraw its offer. The petition also suggests people boycott the address, now scheduled for Dec. 20 at 3 p.m. in Haas Pavilion.

“Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for,” the petition states. “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.”

The controversy has prompted the group who suggested Maher as a speaker to take a closer look at the invitation, said Gina Hwang, the student director for The Californians, which works with University Relations on commencement planning. She and others are talking to those who initiated the petition. Everyone wants the focus of commencement to be on the graduating students and their families, not the speaker, she said.

“It’s still an ongoing process especially since there are many opinions on this matter,” said Hwang. “”Obviously people have strong views and we are going to try and decide (whether to rescind the invitation) as soon as possible.”

Maher will not be paid for his speech, she said.

While Maher has long stated his opposition to organized religion (he made a film in 2008 called Religulous that mocks religion) a conversation he had with the actor Ben Affleck on a show on Oct. 3 appears to be the catalyst for the petition. The two got into a heated discussion about Islam, with Maher declaring that “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing,” Maher said.

Affleck strongly disagreed with Maher’s broad brush description of all Muslims as fanatical.

“How about more than a billion people who aren’t fanatical, who don’t punch women, who just want to go to school, have some sandwiches, pray 5 times a day, and don’t do any of the things you’re saying of all Muslims,” Affleck said on Real Time with Bill Maher. “It’s stereotyping….Some of them do bad things and you’re painting the whole religion with that broad brush.”

Two politically active UC Berkeley students started the petition, although it has been signed by graduates and people with no connection to Cal. The two students are ASUC Senator Marium Navid and Khwaja Ahmed. Both are active in the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSA, according to the Daily Cal. They started the petition Oct 23 and has captured national attention.

“It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,” Navid told the Daily Cal. “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.”

Maher, who is active on Twitter, has not commented on the controversy.

Update: This article has been updated to include information from The Californians, the student group who suggested Maher as a speaker.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...