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UC Berkeley student group votes to disinvite Bill Maher; college overturns it

By Saeed Ahmed and Jacque Wilson, CNN
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A student group selected Maher as speaker in August
  • On Tuesday night, the group met and voted to disinvite him
  • The next day, the college overturned the group's vote

(CNN) -- The controversy over having TV host Bill Maher speak at the University of California Berkeley has taken another turn. Well, make that two.

If you remember, the outspoken comedian was selected as the school's 2014 fall commencement speaker, until students incensed by his anti-religious comments -- particularly his views on Islam -- started a petition to have him removed.

Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are asking administrators to rescind Bill Maher's invitation as their 2014 fall commencement speaker. He's not the first commencement speaker this year to spark controversy. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are asking administrators to rescind Bill Maher's invitation as their 2014 fall commencement speaker. He's not the first commencement speaker this year to spark controversy.
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On Tuesday night, the student group that's tasked with selecting commencement speakers met and voted to withdraw Maher's invitation.

That would have been the end of the matter except the very next day, the college said it won't honor the vote.

"This university has not in the past and will not in the future shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative," the school said.

The disinvitation

The student group is called The Californians. It's a committee of undergrads whose role is to come up with graduation speakers.

In August, the Californians selected Maher. On Tuesday, it decided to unselect him.

But the college says the Tuesday night meeting was held without administration participation.

"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," the school said in a statement.

It added that the school's decision shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of Maher's views. "Indeed, the administration's position on Mr. Maher's opinions and perspectives is irrelevant in this context."

As so, it said, the invitation stands; Maher will speak at the December event.

The reaction

The Council on American-Islamic Relations expressed disappointment at the college's ruling, saying it disrespected students "by casting aside the long-standing process for selecting commencement speakers and instead imposing its own will.

"While Mr. Maher has the right to speak whenever and wherever he likes, he does not have the right to have his hate-filled views honored and tacitly endorsed by a prestigious university," said Zahra Billoo, of the group's San Francisco chapter.

For his part, Maher's keeping mum.

"Every news outlet asking me 4 comment on this Berkeley thing but then i remembered: I'VE got a show!And thats where I'll address it,Fri nite," he tweeted.

The controversy

Meanwhile, the petition on Change.org that started the back-and-forth continues to draws signatures. By early Wednesday morning, 4,100 had signed on.

"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. "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 points to recent episodes of Maher's HBO show "Real Time" as an example. (HBO, like CNN, is a division of Time Warner.)

"Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing," Maher said during one episode, which is cited on the students' petition as an example of Maher's "hate speech."

This isn't the only petition on the site about Maher. Several have called for his firing from "Real Time," though they don't seem to have garnered much traction. Maher has been on the show for 12 years and has become known for his controversial statements on a wide range of topics.

One of Maher's favorite targets is organized religion. His 2008 documentary "Religulous" grossed more than $13 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

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