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Media Institute Honors Pai With 2016 Freedom of Speech Award

FCC commissioner says we “defend free speech when it is under attack”

The Media Institute recognized FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai this week with its Freedom of Speech Award. He accepted the honor at the organization’s banquet, which also coincides with the 12th annual Free Speech Week.

Pai thanked the organization for its recognition and for its own work to protect the First Amendment, but said, “In my view, anyone who has the privilege of serving at the FCC — any preacher with a pulpit, if you will — has the duty to speak out whenever Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake.”

After all, he said, “what gives [the First Amendment] meaning is a culture that believes in it — one in which Americans stand vigil for free speech and a free press. The Media Institute has long understood this.

Pai cautioned that he is concerned that freedom of expression is being threatened, especially on college campuses. He cited several examples of what he considered to be troubling instances in which students battled for political correctness over a plurality of opinions.

“This progressive impulse to squelch speech on college campuses is anything but progressive. And an academic culture pervaded by safe spaces, trigger warnings, and a fear of ‘microaggressions’ must be challenged if America is to preserve the first freedom embedded in our Bill of Rights,” Pai said.

He also questioned the First Amendment’s future role in America if today’s college students “learn now that personal comfort and party-line conformity are more important than confrontation with different points of view? Some of the evidence is ominous. In a 2015 Pew Research Center study, for example, 40% of millennials agreed that the government should be able to prevent people from making offensive statements.”

Pai argued that “Elected officials should intervene to defend free speech when it is under attack at public universities. Administrators should stand strong against the bullying of anti-speech activists. Professors in all disciplines, but especially the humanities, should embrace intellectual diversity and imbue in their students a desire to consider all points of view. And those outside the academy, from organizations like the Media Institute to individual citizens, should make clear society’s expectation that college students will be leaders, not laggards, when it comes to defending our First Amendment freedoms.”

He closed his remarks by saying, “Thank you once again to the Media Institute for giving me the Freedom of Speech Award. I am deeply grateful for it and will do my best to continue fighting for the constitutional freedoms that you have fought so hard, and for so long, to preserve.”

Pai’s full remarks can be found online here.