Bill Maher: Trying to Remove Your Commencement Speaker Is Ironically Intolerant

November 1st 2014

Bill Maher just responded to a petition to get him removed as the commencement speaker from Berkeley's December graduation ceremony over controversy surrounding his views about the Islamic faith. "They invited me because it was the 50th anniversary of something that is legendary on that campus-- the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. I guess they don't teach irony in college anymore," he quipped. Maher also asked his dissenters: "Whoever told you you only had to hear what didn't upset you? The University has come down on my side saying what I hope they would say all along, which is 'we're liberals, we're supposed to like free speech!'"

The petition to remove Maher over his controversial views is part of a growing wave of incidents where students have sought to remove graduation speakers who disagree with them. Last year, students at Rutgers protested former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice until she withdrew as a speaker while students at Smith College petitioned against International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde who also canceled her speech. Brandeis University also rescinded an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women's rights activist, over her controversial views of Islam. 

During his graduation speech at Harvard last year, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shot back and said "This spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw -- or have their invitations rescinded -- after protests... In each case, liberals silenced a voice -- and denied an honorary degree -- to individuals they deemed politically objectionable. This is an outrage," He continued "If you want the freedom to worship as you wish, to speak as you wish, and to marry whom you wish, you must tolerate my freedom to do so -- or not do so -- too. What I do may offend you. You may find my actions immoral or unjust. But attempting to restrict my freedoms in ways that you would not restrict your own leads only to injustice."

In an op-ed adapted from his commencement speech, Bloomberg also stated: "As a former chairman of Johns Hopkins, I believe that a university’s obligation is not to teach students what to think, but to teach students how to think. And that requires listening to the other side, weighing arguments without prejudging them, and determining whether the other side might actually make some fair points."