Bill Maher Gives Berkeley Commencement Speech, Ignores Petition Against Him

Justin Streight

Bill Maher gave the commencement speech at the University of California-Berkeley, despite protests and a petition against his appearance. Protest groups were offended by Maher's opinions of Islam, once calling it "the only religion that acts like the mafia."

Before the commencement ceremony, a small group of students gathered to object to Maher's appearance. They held up signs saying "I'm oppressed by Islamophobia, not Islam" and "Dear Administrator, don't Maher our commencement."

Bill Maher made an enemy out a number of Muslims when he compared the religion to organized crime saying Islam is "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."

Similarly, he made Ben Affleck upset during another debate on Islam, which is described in more detail here.

According to the Contra Costa Times, the protesters at Berkeley managed to gather about 6,000 signatures to uninvite the talk show host, but their message fell on deaf ears. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks replied to the students in a letter available at the Daily Californian.

"Free speech is a basic right and is not only constitutionally protected but also a value that is encoded in the DNA of Berkeley. And yet the current controversy makes clear the extent to which free speech can cause pain, offense, and even outrage."

The commencement happened to fall on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, in which UC Berkeley students rose to lift a ban on political activities on campus grounds and receive an acknowledgement of the students' right to free speech.

Bill Maher emphasized the necessity of free speech to liberalism, saying, "never forget that we are lucky to live in a country that has a First Amendment. Liberals should want to own it the way conservatives own the Second."

Of course, Maher's talk wasn't entirely dedicated to free speech. The comedian also emphasized the need for environmental protection saying that this generation of graduates needs to take on climate change like the '70s era graduates worked on ending the Vietnam War.

He also called on students to fight oppression, no matter where or how it occurs.

"If you call yourself a liberal, you have to fight oppression from wherever it comes... that's what makes you a liberal."

[Image Credit: Angela George/Wikimedia Commons]