CAPE TOWN (AFP) - South Africa's veteran Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu on Wednesday brushed off rival online petitions as thousands of supporters rallied against calls for him to be banned from a US university.
The online drama was sparked by a petition calling for the 80-year-old's invitation to a Washington state university to be withdrawn over his support for same-sex marriage, gays in the clergy, contraception and "offensive" statements to Jews.
But the country's rabblerouser-in-chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner shrugged off the latest controversy in a lifetime of butting heads in his outspoken global campaigns for democracy and peace.
"People should be entitled to express their opinions, and I will continue to work hard to support the right of all people around the world to express their opinions," he said in a statement.
The initial petition said Tutu's role as keynote speaker and recipient of an honorary degree at Gonzaga University's 125th anniversary celebrations on May 13 "will mark a sad day" in the institution's history.
"Although Archbishop Tutu performed wonderful work in South Africa, his positions on pre-born life, sexuality, and his disrespect for the Jewish people, should disqualify him from receiving any honors at any institution worthy of calling itself Catholic," it urged.
Signatures included students, faculty and alumni of the university.
But the petition was dwarfed by a mass of signatures in a counter campaign that by 1430 GMT had reached more than 12,200, against 803 for the original.
"Don't give in to the religious right extremists who are trying to silence him," it urged.
It is not the first time Tutu has been the subject of online drama, with a counter-campaign last year sparked by accusations of his "demonising Israel" and demands that he be axed as the patron of local Holocaust centres.