Bill Maher and “Free Speech”


Well, here we go again. Consider this post a sequel to my earlier post: Yes, You Still Have “Freedom of Speech” (even if you get fired or boycotted) If you’re reading this, please read that first, if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.



Well, far too many people are still operating under the mistaken belief that “freedom of speech” means you have the right to say whatever you want whenever and wherever you want and no one can ever try to convince other people to stop listening to you or refuse to give you a platform to speak.






Nope, that’s not what “freedom of speech” means. So let’s try this one more time for the slow children in the back.

Bill Maher is an alleged comedian who hosts an hour-long talk show called Real Time With Bill Maher Friday nights on HBO. Recently he had been invited to give a commencement speech at UC Berkeley, only to then be dis-invited by the university sometime later. This appears to be due to a series of controversial remarks Bill Maher has made in recent months. He brought this up on last week’s show, declaring his dis-invite from Berkeley as some kind of huge affront to “free speech,” proclaiming that “Liberals are supposed to be for free speech!”

And I’ve seen articles defending him, including one I remember which warned against making Bill Maher a “martyr over free speech.” But the only one trying to make Bill Maher a martyr is Bill Maher himself. This has NOTHING to do with free speech. And it really isn’t about Bill Maher either (despite his best efforts to make it so), which is why I’m purposely being vague about the details of what started this controversy. You can go do a quick Google-search if you must, but I’m going to try to address this without focusing too much on him, because that can be distracting, and just turn this into a debate between fan and non-fans of Bill Maher. But I say that whether or not you like or dislike Bill Maher or agree or disagree with his views, this is a bigger issue. And my opinion would be exactly the same regardless of who this was about. It could be someone I hate or someone I love. Either way I stand with UC Berkeley’s decision.

First, once again, no one is being threatened with jail over what they say. The government is not banning anyone from speaking at the university. If so, THAT would be a violation of free speech. But instead, this is the university itself making the decision that inviting a particular individual to speak at this ceremony might be offensive to a significant number of the students who will be in attendance, and therefor changing their plans. That’s their right.

But some people, in the name of “free speech”, try to argue that he be allowed to speak, because otherwise that’s “censorship,” or “political correctness”, and they say things like “Instead of trying to stop him from speaking, you should engage him. Don’t shut him up, challenge his ideas, that’s what free speech is about!

And you know what? If he’d just been invited to give a speech at the campus as a separate event, I’d completely agree with that. Students can then choose whether or not they want to attend his speech, and then engage him. Heck, invite him to the campus for a formal debate, with someone who can challenge his views on that subject! That would be fine. But this is Commencement Ceremony. There won’t be any debate there (nor should there be). It’s an event that’s supposed to be celebrating the achievements of these students who are graduating. This should be a proud moment, with their classmates and families. And have a commencement speaker whom inspires them.

So what are the students who are offended by this person supposed to do? On their special day they would be the ones who would have to make the choice to either skip this ceremony, or go but be forced to sit there listening to someone they find offensive? How is that fair to them? That’s the important issue here.

Bill Maher still has his weekly TV show which people can choose to watch. He can still go on tour and perform in front of people who choose to pay to see him. No one is restricting his right to speak, but he does not have the right to demand any particular platform from anyone. Sorry, but that’s not how “free speech” works.



  1. When Ann Coulter came to Canada in 2010 to fulfill some speaking engagements, there was a bit of a brouhaha when the University of Ottawa said there was a possibility of violence if she took the stage. Coulter cancelled her appearance and made remarks typical of her, complete with a sneer.

    But out west in Alberta (where I live), she spoke at the University of Calgary without incident. Now, my province has had ties to Texas and other states because of the oil & gas industry, and conservatism – good and bad – is part of the landscape (even if a large amount of us, including myself, despise current trends in conservative thought).

    If Bill Maher has had his appearances cancelled in some places due to his recent comments, he should re-book in cities and states that want to hear what he has to say. After the recent mid-term elections, he should have many stages to choose from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link!

      Ann Coulter, ugh. I can’t say anything good about the vile woman. Nevertheless, I have a different opinion in that situation. Since her speech was a separate event, I would have encouraged anyone who disliked her to simply not go to it. And if they must protest, then they should do so peacefully. Threats of violence because of someone’s words is ALWAYS wrong, in my opinion. And the university should have just gotten better security.

      As for Maher, that’s the thing, he doesn’t have any problem touring and selling concert tickets. There are people who want to hear him, so good for them. He’s just making this Berkeley thing a big deal because he’s an egomaniac.


  2. i removed one comment from someone who tried to defend Bill Maher’s viewpoint about a certain religion (while sneaking in a link to their own blog) .

    PAY ATTENTION, people. I specifically said that whether or not you like or agree with Bill Maher’s views is irrelevant to this topic, which is why I purposely avoided writing about those views, because this is about the bigger issue of whether or not him being dis-invited from a speaking engagement counts as an example of an attack on “free speech.” In my opinion it does not. He can still speak elsewhere, but “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean you’re owed the right to speak anywhere if others don’t want to be forced to listen to you. Just like me deleting a comment here isn’t denying “free speech.” This is MY blog, if I don’t want to discuss any particular topic here, then I won’t allow it.

    There are plenty of blogs and articles out there debating the substance of Bill Maher’s views, go talk about it there, if you want to, or write about it on your own blog. THIS post is about what “free speech” really means.


  3. I used to b a fan of Bill Maher back during his politically incorrect days but I do agree that this is not an attack on free speech, just a decision made by an institution to not allow him to speak at their commencement. He can chose from many other venues to speak at.


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