BERKELEY -- Insulted by his statements about religion, some UC Berkeley students are opposing the selection of outspoken comedian and TV show host Bill Maher as keynote speaker for the campus's December commencement ceremony.
The petition on change.org -- "Stop Bill Maher from speaking at UC Berkeley's December graduation" -- came swiftly after last week's announcement that Maher had been selected for the event.
"Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for," the petition says. " ... Bill Maher's public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive and his dangerous rhetoric has found its way into our campus communities."
As of Monday afternoon, the petition had 1,754 signatures.
Maher, a self-described liberal, hosts a political talk show on HBO, "Real Time With Bill Maher." Earlier this month, he argued that liberals needed to stand up to the intolerance that he argued was perpetuated by Islam.
Actor Ben Affleck, a guest on the show, reacted vehemently to Maher's assertion that mainstream Islamic ideas contribute to violence and the marginalization of women and gays. Affleck called such arguments "gross" and "racist."
During the exchange, Maher said of Islam: "It's the only religion that acts like the mafia that will (expletive) kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book."
One of the Cal students who posted the petition, Marium Navid, said Maher's views against organized religion offended students of all faiths.
"People say he has the right to freedom of speech, and I agree with that," she said. " ... The problem is that when you bring him to the university, you're pretty much putting him into a privileged position. You're raising his voice."
Navid, a student government representative, said statements linking Islam with violence put students like her on the defensive. "As a Muslim student, I have to constantly defend myself and prove that I'm not a member of ISIS," she said.
Remarks about the violent or oppressive nature of Islam aren't just offensive; they perpetuate racism and anti-Muslim sentiment, said Taliah Mirmalek, a Muslim student-leader and graduating senior who is working on a related email and letter campaign.
It's one thing for Maher to give a lecture on campus, she said. But by making him the commencement speaker, she argues, Berkeley implicitly endorses his views, essentially saying, "'It's not crazy that he said these things.'"
The UC Berkeley campus administration referred questions about the speaker to The Californians, a student group involved in the selection of the speakers. A representative from the group couldn't immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.
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