Bill Maher defends Ann Coulter in Berkeley free-speech dispute

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Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says she will still go to the University of California at Berkeley despite the university canceling her speech over safety concerns. In February, riots occurred when conservative Milo Yiannopoulos was asked to speak by a group of campus Republicans. (Reuters)

An unlikely person has come to the defense of conservative pundit Ann Coulter in her ongoing push to give a speech at the University of California at Berkeley: liberal television host and comedian Bill Maher.

Coulter was scheduled to give a speech at the university on April 27, but the university canceled it Wednesday, citing security concerns. In recent months, the campus has been the .

Though the school reversed its decision and extended a new invitation for Coulter to speak on campus on May 2, she rejected the offer. Instead, she has vowed to speak in Berkeley on the original date and is accusing the university of trying to restrict her rights to free speech.

Maher addressed the controversy on his show, ,” on Friday night — by first acknowledging how surprising his defense of Coulter might seem to his viewers.

“I know, we don’t like Ann Coulter’s views,” he said, to audience laughter. “I like her as a person. I’ve never agreed with one thing she ever said.”

Maher referred to his own similar situation with Berkeley, when . School officials ultimately stuck by Maher, .

“They got their act together and I wound up doing it, and apparently that’s what’s going to happen to (Coulter), I think,” Maher said. “But Berkeley, you know, used to be the cradle of free speech, and now it’s just the cradle for f—ing babies.”

Speaking to S.E. Cupp, a conservative political commentator and guest on his show, Maher compared the cancellation of Coulter’s speech to “the liberals’ version of book burning.”

“And I feel like this goes on all over the country on campuses,” Maher told Cupp. “They invite someone to speak who’s not exactly what liberals want to hear, and they want to shutter it. … And it’s got to stop.”

Maher also blasted former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, who erroneously tweeted on Thursday that “hate speech” was not protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“Yes, it is!” Maher said. “Threats are not protected by the First Amendment. … That’s what the First Amendment means. It doesn’t mean just shut up and agree with me.”

Cupp agreed with Maher.

, the group that invited Coulter to speak at Berkeley has threatened to sue the university if it does not let Coulter speak on a campus venue during the evening of April 27.

Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said that moving the date and time of Coulter’s speech was a matter of student security.

“We are confident that we are on very solid legal grounds,” Mogulof said in response to the threatened lawsuit. “We are concerned about her disregard for the assessment and recommendations of law enforcement professionals whose primary focus is the safety and well-being of our students and other members of our campus community.”

This is hardly the first time Berkeley has been in the spotlight over a conservative speaker’s plans to visit the campus. In February, conservative provocateur and then-Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech at Berkeley when violent protests broke out on campus, . The incident prompted President Trump to weigh in on Twitter, apparently threatening to withhold federal funding from the university.

Yiannopoulos accused Berkeley of infringing on his First Amendment rights then.

“The event has been canceled,” he wrote on his Facebook page in February. “I’ll let you know more when the facts become clear. One thing we do know for sure: the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”

The university said in a statement then that “the threats and unlawful actions of a few have interfered with the exercise of First Amendment rights on a campus that is proud of its history and legacy as the home of the Free Speech Movement.”

Here’s a look at some of the protests in the Berkeley, Calif., area in recent months. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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