Atheist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins speaks to the crowd during the "Rock Beyond Belief" festival at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina on March 31, 2012. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

Richard Dawkins, shunned in Berkeley, finds new venue nearby

(RNS) — Richard Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist and ardent critic of religion, found a new San Francisco-area venue to host his current book tour after his planned Berkeley appearance was abruptly canceled.

Dawkins, 76, was scheduled to speak Aug. 9 at a ticketed book signing and benefit for KPFA, a listener-supported Berkeley public radio station. But the station, citing "Dawkins' abusive speech against Muslims," notified ticket holders it was canceling the event in an email dated July 20.

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On Thursday (July 27), Dawkins announced on Twitter that the event has been rescheduled on the same day 18 miles to the west at Book Passage, an independent bookstore in Marin County. It is no longer a benefit for KPFA.

KPFA has experienced a deluge of criticism for its cancellation of the Dawkins event, far beyond its many upset listeners. Dawkins' allies — many of them famous scientists and public atheists — took to social media or other outlets to express their concern over what they saw as censorship.

"(Dawkins') speech has not been abusive towards Islam, but has involved criticism of religious dogma – and of all faiths," Jerry Coyne, a biologist and author of "Why Evolution Is True" said in an open letter to KPFA. "That is free speech, not 'abusive' speech. ... How dare a radio station commit such a blatant violation of the First Amendment?"

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Even longtime Dawkins critics came to his defense. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, who has often butted heads with Dawkins over his remarks about Catholicism, issued a supportive statement of Dawkins after the cancellation.

"Dawkins has been burned by the Left," Donohue said. "He spoke the truth when he said of the decision to muzzle his free speech that 'I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that.' He never will be."

Dawkins has a long history of making inflammatory statements about Islam. In 2013, he called Islam "the greatest force for evil in the world today," and he has belittled Islamic scholars, saying "true scholars have read more than one book," meaning the Quran.

He has also been called a sexist for some of his remarks about women. He stood by many of his most infamous remarks, including tweeted advice for parents expecting a Down syndrome child to "abort and try again."

“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” Dawkins told Religion News Service in 2014 when asked about reaction to some of his remarks. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”

KPFA's decision to cancel Dawkins puzzled many. The station has a long history of promoting free speech; located in the shadow of the University of California, Berkeley, it had a front-row seat to the free speech movement born there in the 1960s. The station hosted Dawkins in 2015 without any incident.

KPFA general manager Quincy McCoy has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The university has been the center point for multiple free speech issues this year. In February, university officials canceled an appearance by former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos after protests turned violent, and in April, the university canceled two scheduled appearances by conservative speaker Ann Coulter.

The KPFA incident has been a blot on what was to be something of a triumphant return for the British biologist. In 2016, he suffered a minor stroke and had to cancel several of his U.S. appearances. This book tour — coupled with a larger speaking tour — is his first extended return to the U.S., where he has many fans.

Dawkins' new book, "Science in the Soul," will be released by Random House on Aug. 8, one day before his Bay Area appearance. He is most famous for 2006's "The God Delusion," which some scholars credit with broadening the acceptance of atheism in the public square, and "The Selfish Gene," a 1976 book The Guardian recently placed 10th on a list of the 100 best nonfiction books.

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  1. “The KPFA incident has been a blot on what was to be something of a triumphant return for the British biologist.”

    More of a blot on KPFA’s image than on Dawkins’ return.

  2. You can tell that the Berkeley Bums (and the cowardly mealy-mouth admins, faculty, and residents of Berkeley), have totally lost whatever was left of their pickled Alt-Left brains, via either generating or else accepting the mindless censorship currently being imposed on the atheist & evolutionist professor Richard Dawkins.

    (And I say all this as a card-carrying creationist and fundamentalist.)

  3. Well, according to rumor, I DO tend to carry a lotta different cards in my wallet.

    (Gotta make sure there’s no non-descript surprises just sitting around in the card pile.)

    But, umm, how exactly does
    a rational person derive those specific cards you just mentioned, merely by asserting that Richard Dawkins has a right to freedom of speech in this nation?

  4. Do you have video, photographs, recordings, or writings to support your (edited) slander?

  5. It’s hypocrisy. Fundamentalist Christians are criticized over some beliefs that they share with Islam.

  6. But this, as usual, demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of the Left when it comes to speech issues, so there are no surprises here; It is merely the normative pattern of such folks. Please…please…please, somebody from the Left try to defend this within the construct of the 1st Amendment. It would be a fascinating, yet facile effort.

  7. Just an irrational, illogical, unsupported bit of blather from an uncivil, censorious soul.

  8. Well, firstly I’d question whether it’s hypocrisy of the left or the capitalist desire of the radio station’s owners who don’t want to upset their muslim listeners. You’re assuming it’s hypocrisy of the left when it’s much more likely to be the fear of losing money.

  9. you say this as a card carrying racist, women hater, child abuser and morbidly obese tard

    Typical regressive alt-left response when they’ve got nothing cogent or coherent to say. And they usually don’t.

  10. Yes, Richard Dawkins is the “drunk racist uncle” of the atheist set. He is a brilliant scientist but hamfisted as hell when asked to speak beyond his area of expertise.

  11. So you’re not going to defend Floydlee from the allegations? Instead you’re going the “Hey, that description fits me too – I’ll get angry on Floydlee’s behalf” route? Interesting choice.

  12. Drunk sexist anti-religious uncle (who happens to be right about the religion thing). I haven’t seen any evidence that he’s racist (Islam isn’t a race).

  13. So you’re not going to defend bladimus peetry from the allegations? Instead you’re going the “Hey, that description fits me too – I’ll get angry on bladimus peetry’s behalf” route” Interesting choice.

  14. IMO he goes overboard on the anti theism. It come off as arrogant and unnecessary. Groanworthy.

    I meant “drunk racist uncle” as a stereotype of the older relative one brings to family events out of obligation and says embarrassing things in public. I didn’t imply he was racist any more than I implied he was drunk or our uncles.

  15. No. The market share of San Francisco’s Muslim population is low. That’s not a big enough market for that to be the reason.

    And certainly I while believing in one God and Muhammad as his prophet find trying to shut down Dawkins’ events counterproductive and stupid at best, so it’s not like every Muslim listener in the already low Muslim marketshare would agree with the decision to cancel it.

    But while there isn’t a large market share of Muslims in San Francisco, there IS a large share of non-Muslims in San Francisco willing to be offended on behalf of Muslims. So I’d wager it was their market share and their culture driving the decision.

  16. On one hand I think Dawkins has foolish views.

    But he also represents those views SO poorly that I’d MUCH PREFER that he be allowed to speak and show his arrogance in his positions rather than SILENCING HIM, making him LOOK LIKE THE VICTIM, and thus causing people to assume him correct based on his victim-hood.

    So I think Dawkins should be allowed, maybe even encouraged, to speak whenever possible.

    On the other hand, while I disagree with the radio station’s choice and find it MORE than counterproductive to cancel his speech like that, I also firmly believe THIS IS NOT A FREE SPEECH ISSUE.

    You have the right to speak freely. You do NOT have the right to force someone to give you a platform to speak. If the radio station wants to refuse giving him a platform, which is a decision that I think is terrible and stupid, that is their RIGHT as a platform. It’s their own free speech rights.

    As long as the platform IS NOT the government, it doesn’t have to give everyone access to the platform. (Now, granted, this is California, so for all I know the radio station COULD be state-owned, but as far as I know it isn’t.)

    But even though the station has the right to do as it pleases, this decision was ridiculously stupid.

  17. Indeed. Various media sources these days don’t seem to realize that every action they take is just making them look worse and worse.

  18. “Please…please…please, somebody from the Left try to defend this within the construct of the 1st Amendment.”

    I am not from the Left. So much so I find the current Republican administration too socialist for my liking.

    AND I find revoking Dawkins planned speech just plain STUPID and DUMB. The radio station should have allowed it to proceed. The ridiculous media continues to be completely unaware of just how much it is shooting itself in the foot and making itself look worse and worse to the average person.

    But I WILL defend the right of the radio station to do this stupid thing, from the construct of the 1st Amendment. The 1st gives you the right to Free Speech. It does NOT give you the right to a platform. If we lived in a world where Dawkins right to free speech was violated by this decision, then you or I could write an article, send it to RNS, and FORCE them to publish whatever we wanted ~because~free~speech~.

    But that’s obviously NOT how the right to free speech works.

    Thus, if the radio station wants to refuse to air Dawkins’ speech, then however STUPID, and self-suicidal that decision may be, then they have the right to do that. Their broadcasts are ~their~ speech, and they have a free speech right themselves to choose what they want to broadcast and what they do not want to broadcast.

    And, again, I believe they are making the WRONG decision with this. They’re shooting themselves in the foot, and aiding the death of the media by making them all look like a bunch of oversensitive hypocrites. But they have a RIGHT to be that stupid. And Dawkins does NOT have the right to force them to give him a platform, just like you or I cannot force them to allow US to speak on their radio programs.

    Annoyingly, the thing about being a principled free speech supporter is that I must support the rights of the radio station to give their speech and platform to those they wish, even when I think they are using their rights for stupid, stupid things. But that’s how the right works.

  19. You are assuming that the radio station has only legal obligations.

    A radio station also has an educational obligation. (School children improve their vocabulary and grammar by listening to good speakers on the radio.)

    Further, let us compare what two readers wrote. Ian Cooper wrote, “don’t want to upset their muslim listeners.” And Jim Johnson wrote “Fundamental Christians are criticized”. What are Ian and Jim saying? That the public has been conditioned to think that Muslims are incapable of self-critique, while fundamental Christians are capable of self-critique; Muslims cannot handle critique, while fundamental Christians can handle critique.

    How did the public get conditioned to think this way? Among other things, by radio stations failing to realize that they have an educational obligation.

  20. Sorry, but Floydlee is many things. Many of which I do not agree with one word of, but he is none of those. Your post is malicious trollery.

  21. “Well, according to rumor, I DO tend to carry a lotta different cards in my wallet.”

    That was a most graceful reaction to someone acting like a equine posterior. 🙂

  22. No, that isn’t Liberalism. The foundation of Liberalism is free speech and expression. This is the new Far Left or whatever identity they use.

  23. I agree. The in-your-face approach/attack is counter productive and turns people off. I personally think he enjoys the publicity. I have read and enjoyed his books and video lectures.

  24. What I said was the Left has no problem criticizing Christianity but refrains from criticizing Islam. That is hypocrisy. I meant or implied nothing more. This is basically what Dawkins stated.

  25. You are correct.

    Let me rephrase the question
    “What are Ian and Jim saying?”
    as follows:
    “What inference can we make from the points that Ian and Jim are making?”

    Please understand that the point you made is large in scale. Many individuals in the US, in the UK and in India have written emails or letters to the editor that the Left has double standards. This has been going on for a few generations.

    When that’s the scale of the issue, then you have to focus on how the public has been conditioned to think.

  26. I agree with you essentially. My frustration lies with the hypocrisy on the Left in general, rather than with the specific act by the radio station. Your argument is quite sound.

  27. A not unreasonable surmise, but my thought was that the whole question is broader based than the single act by the radio station.

  28. Your reply is not differentiated a whole lot from that of bladimus peetry, even if your assessment of Benny Cemoli’s response is correct. But then this response on my part could presumably be characterized in the same fashion. What fun..

  29. Definitely not classical Liberalism.

  30. Then what is it? I thought Berkeley was the bastion of liberalism.

  31. “Was” being the key word. I use the term Leftist to distinguish it. They no longer believe in free speech. Any ideas they disagree with is labelled hate speech or violence and they feel they have a right to suppress it. I consider them a squeaky fringe group that gets the media grease.

  32. I do agree with him that we should be vocal in the fight to remove or prevent creationism from being in taught as science is the classroom.

  33. No, but rather, “hamfisted as hell when asked to speak beyond (our) area of expertise;” and of course you knew that. I wonder, has anybody asked Dawkins to speak outside his area of expertise?

  34. Just curious, how do folks feel about the Milo Yiannopoulos Berkeley fiasco? Are we talking apples and apples here?

  35. Milo was invited by a group at the college.

    My view is that no group is obligated to bring in any specific speaker, but if they choose a speaker they are allowed to listen to him.

    Other people and groups may object. They may protest and speak in opposition. But they have no right to silence another.

    Milo is repugnant. I don’t understand why any group would select him as a speaker. But they did. He should not have been blocked from speaking.

  36. Some on the left fit that description. Many don’t. Many on the right suppress speech they don’t like.

    We all need to defend the rights of others, including people we disagree with.

  37. And far right.

    Compare this to what happened to Eugene Peterson when he dared to suggest gay people should not be treated like immoral scum.

    Many on “the left” defended Dawkins’ right to speak. How many on “the right” defended Peterson?

  38. Study of the Bible to validate itself. Fundamentalist self wankery in its plainest form.

  39. good response, cool ” He should not have been blocked from speaking.” – that is exactly what I’d expect from Christians or others who have issues with Dawkins speaking….or the Westboro Baptist Church for that matter…..freedom of speech is a bitch all ways around…but we must defend it.

  40. hey dude, it appears I’m also repugnant as I find my posts being deleted/censored and blocked. I would ask you, is this free speech? Are Progressive Atheists so threatened? I want to call out “Progressive Secular Humanist” on Patheos blogs on this….how is it we have to block opinions? This is Leftist 101…..fuck Trump, I’m more scared of the Secular Left every time!

  41. wow! so if it, is not true to somebodies ways of lying it is called a phobia because it is the truth? have you ever heard, any muslim ever say their religion, has or had a major incompatibility problem?

    i do not agree with dawkins much, but i will agree that every religion is screwed up including his secular science religion.

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