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Pepperdine | School of Public Policy

Free Speech 2022 Conference

Challenges and Opportunities through Institutions

Hand holding cardboard sign with Free Speech

Event Details

Monday, May 23, 2022
11:30 AM PT

Wilburn Auditorium/Executive Dining Center
Pepperdine University
Malibu, CA

For more information about this event, please email sppevents@pepperdine.edu, or call 310.506.7490.

As the School of Public Policy celebrates its 25th anniversary year, we are focusing our events on the anniversary theme derived from Pepperdine University's Affirmation Statement: "that freedom, whether spiritual, intellectual, or economic, is indivisible."

The Free Speech 2022 Conference will explore American liberty through the lens of major institutions—academia and the media—and how these are shaping civic discourse in the nation's public square. While free speech has long been a treasured Constitutional principle, panel discussions will also highlight the role modern technology is both circumscribing free expression, as it provides new opportunities for political engagement.

Free speech is the cultural outlet for intellectual and religious liberty—an essential element for a diverse people in a democratic republic. Multiple public opinion surveys reveal that most Americans—across the political spectrum - share a concern about their ability to discuss political and policy issues without fear of social alienation.

From Dr. Robert George's keynote through the panels featuring leading scholars and activists, attendees will both develop a comprehensive understanding of the challenges to free speech in these civic institutions, but will also learn of new multi-partisan organizations working to revive a civil and diverse public square in America.


Please note: This event will not be live-streamed. 
For those who wish to receive the conference video, the week following the event date, please register via the “video link” ticket. 


  Bion Bartning

Bion Bartning

Bion is the founder of FAIR, an entrepreneur, and investor. He earned his MBA from Columbia Business School and graduated magna cum laude, with a degree in economics and environmental studies from Occidental College. He is an avid traveler, with a deep appreciation for cross-cultural understanding and relationships.

  Kassy Dillon (MPP '21)

Kassy Dillon

Kassy Dillon (MPP '21) is a political strategist, commentator, and director of digital engagement at Amb. Nikki Haley’s Stand for America. While attending a liberal women’s college in Massachusetts, she founded Lone Conservative, a group that has given over 500 conservative students a voice and media experience. She attended Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy where she obtained an MPP specializing in American politics and international relations. She previously worked at The Daily Wire as a writer, where she also created short documentaries focusing on immigration, homelessness, and feminism. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, The Hill, Campus Reform, Providence Magazine, and The American Mind.

  Conor Friedersdorf

Conor Friedersdorf

Conor Friedersdorf is a California-based staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

  Robert George

Robert George

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He has served as Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the President’s Council on Bioethics. He was a Judicial Fellow at the U.S. Supreme Court, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore, he holds the degrees of JD and MTS from Harvard University and the degrees of DPhil, BCL, DCL, and DLitt from Oxford University, in addition to twenty-two honorary doctorates. He is a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, and Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

  Laci Green

Laci Green

Laci Green began the Indirect Message podcast to explore lesser-heard ideas and perspectives as a response to rising polarization and censorship on social media. She's the creator of Sex Plus!, YouTube's most popular sexuality education series. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, she created award-winning digital series for Discovery Channel and MTV. Green has fiercely advocated for critical thinking about issues in sexuality all over the world. She is currently in graduate school to become a licensed counselor. 


  Gail Heriot

Gail Heriot

Gail Heriot is a law professor at the University of San Diego, where she teaches civil rights law and history, employment discrimination, legislation, remedies, and torts.  She is also a member of the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Heriot’s work has appeared in legal journals like the Michigan Law Review and the Texas Journal of Law & Politics well as popular newspapers, magazines, and blogs.  She is also the editor (along with Maimon Schwarzschild) of the recently published anthology, A Dubious Expediency: How Race Preferences Damage Higher Education.

She is the chairman of the board of the American Civil Rights Project, a member of the board of the National Association of Scholars and Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, and the chair emeritus of the Civil Rights practice group at the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy

  Ann McElhinney

Ann McElhinney

Ann McElhinney is a New York Times best-selling author, journalist, film producer and director and one of the most successful crowdfunders in the world. Together with her husband Phelim McAleer, she has raised more than  $6 million in five separate crowdfunding campaigns. 

Their Gosnell movie, starring Dean Cain, which told the story of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, was the most successful film project ever on Indiegogo. It raised $2.3m in just 45 days. 

She produced and co-wrote the movie Gosnell - The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. She and her husband, journalist Phelim McAleer wrote the New York Times Best Seller Gosnell – The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer. The book debuted at #3 Amazon Best Seller and sold out in three days after publication. 

The Gosnell project has attracted an enormous amount of media coverage on television, radio and with hundreds of articles written about the book, film, and the historic crowdfunding. 

McElhinney directed and produced FrackNation - A Journalist's Search for the Fracking Truth, a documentary on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the natural gas boom in the US and abroad. Variety said it was a “briskly paced…mischievous pic.”

McElhinney is a regular columnist with TownHall. She has also written for or appeared on FOX News, CNN, BBC, CBC (Canada), ABC (Australia), RTE (Ireland), the Sunday Times and the Irish Times. McElhinney has worked as a journalist and filmmaker in the US, Canada, Romania, Bulgaria, Chile, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Ghana, and Uganda.


  Naomi Schaefer-Riley

Naomi Schaefer Riley

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on issues regarding child welfare as well as a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. She also writes about parenting, higher education, religion, philanthropy and culture. She is a former columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer, as well as the author of six books. Her book, Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America (Oxford, 2013), was named an editor’s pick by the New York Times Book Review.

Riley’s writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications. She appears regularly on FoxNews and FoxBusiness and CNBC. She has also appeared on Q&A with Brian Lamb as well as the Today Show.

She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in English and Government. She lives in the suburbs of New York with her husband, Jason, and their three children.

  Jon Shields

Jon Shields

Jon A. Shields is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. His most recent book is Trump's Democrats, co-authored with Stephanie Muravchik. His commentary has appeared in the LA Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Wilson Quarterly

  Eli Steele (MPP '11)

Eli Steele

Eli Steele is an award-winning filmmaker and his latest film is “What Killed Michael Brown?” 

A graduate of Claremont McKenna College and Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy, Steele’s career highlights include “How Jack Became Black,” “What’s Bugging Seth,” winner of ten film festivals, and “Katrina,” an MTV Network pilot which won him the Breakthrough Filmmakers Award. 

Steele has written for publications ranging from LA Times and Fox News to Commentary Magazine. 

  Joel Thayer

Joel Thayer

Joel Thayer is president of the Digital Progress Institute and Principal of Thayer, PLLC. He focuses his practice on telecommunications, regulatory and transactional matters, as well as privacy and cybersecurity issues. He has represented clients in front of myriad legal and regulatory fora, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and federal administrative agencies. Thayer has also represented amicus curiae before the United States Supreme Court and advised technology companies on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. Additionally, Mr. Thayer’s practice extends to matters concerning both administrative and constitutional law.

Prior to starting Thayer, PLLC, Thayer was an associate at Phillips Lytle. Before that, he served as Policy Counsel for ACT | The App Association, where he advised on legal and policy issues related to antitrust, telecommunications, privacy, cybersecurity, and intellectual property in Washington, DC. His experience also includes working as a legal clerk for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen. Additionally, Thayer served as a congressional staffer for the Hon. Lee Terry and Hon. Mary Bono.

  Batya Ungar-Sargon

Batya Ungar-Sargon

Batya Ungar-Sargon is the deputy opinion editor of Newsweek. Her book Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy came out in October. 

  Tunku Varadarajan

Tunku Varadarajan

Tunku Varadarajan is a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Concurrently, he is a fellow at the Classical Liberal Institute at New York University School of Law, an editorial page (and books section) contributing writer at The Wall Street Journal, a fellow at the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University, and a contributing editor for Politico Europe.

Before joining AEI, Varadarajan was the executive editor at the Hoover Institution and editor of Defining Ideas, Hoover’s in-house publication. A practicing journalist since 1992, Mr. Varadarajan has edited and written for The Wall Street Journal (where he was the op-ed editor for five years), The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Forbes, Financial Times, and The Times of London, among others. He has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, New York University’s journalism school and Stern School of Business, and the University of Oxford. Currently, he is also an adjunct professor at the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine. 

He has an MA in jurisprudence (law) from the University of Oxford.

  Brad Wilcox

Brad Wilcox

Brad Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies.

He is the coauthor of Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives (Columbia, 2013, with Kathleen Kovner Kline), and the author of Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands (Chicago, 2004).

His research on marriage and family life is regularly featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic,  and many other media outlets.  


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