A Republican on the Federal Communications Commission called on the agency to dismiss petitions that would prevent broadcasters from using the Washington Redskins team name on the air.
Commissioner Ajit Pai on Tuesday night said the move would squelch debate and burden legitimate news reporting.
Pai declined to give his personal views on the use of the NFL team’s name, which many find offensive to Native Americans. He warned that lawmakers should refrain from disregarding free speech.
"Public officials should not sound an uncertain trumpet when oft-offended opportunists urge us to undermine the First Amendment," he said.
Activists have filed a number of petitions around the country asking the FCC not to renew some radio and TV stations' broadcast licenses because of their use of the Redskins team name on the air.
George Washington University professor John Banzhaf, who has led the charge, says the petitions could likely apply to any station across the country that uses the name repetitively and unnecessarily. The petitions assert the stations are operating outside the public interest and define the term as hate speech or a fighting word.
A number of Democratic lawmakers have publicly called on the team to change its name. However, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is one of the few lawmakers to support the broadcast push.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he finds the term Redskins offensive. But he said his owns views do not signal how the commission will rule.
"Whether in the halls of academia or at the FCC’s headquarters, we must not let censorship [win]," Pai said, relating the issue to reports of public universities disinviting speakers due to criticism of past comments.