Protest over Peter King at St. John's commencement

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St. John's choice of commencement speaker has some students howling in protest.

The Queens university tapped Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) to deliver an address at graduation, upsetting students at one of the nation's most diverse campuses because of his past conflicts with the Muslim-American community.

Among his other controversial comments, King said in a 2007 interview that there are "too many mosques in this country," though he later claimed he was taken out of context. As chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, the congressman also held controversial hearings on Islamic radicalization.

The Torch, St. John's student newspaper, revealed King as the keynote speaker Tuesday.

Soon afterward, outraged students organized an online petition that had garnered more than 400 signatures as of 6 p.m. Wednesday.

"Congressman Peter King has made controversial and overtly racial remarks and his views do not accurately reflect the diversity of our student body," the petition on Change.org reads.

King, in a phone interview Wednesday, said he was "honored to have been selected by St. John's to be commencement speaker."

He said the petition is an issue between the university and its students.

"I don't want to be dragged into any kind of fight," he said.

A St. John's spokesman said that choosing a commencement speaker was "a challenging decision and one that the university weighs heavily," and that King was chosen because of his "bipartisan efforts to secure much needed federal funding for New Yorkers following superstorm Sandy."

With Paul LaRocco

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