by Bob Unruh
A health professor at California State University at Fresno has been sued in his personal capacity for lecturing students who already had obtained school permission for a series of chalked messages on the sidewalk declaring “college campuses are not free speech areas.”
He then used his sneaker to try to wipe out the chalked messages.
The teacher, Greg Thatcher, apparently disagreed with the message being promoted by the campus Students for Life organization.
Members recorded their encounter with Thatcher, who berated them for their pro-life expression, “claimed that they could only express themselves in a ‘free speech area’ (which the university eliminated two years ago), and then proceeded to scrub out their chalk messages on the sidewalk.”
Fresno State Students for Life received full permission to chalk pro-life messages near the library. Rather than countering with his own message, Dr. Thatcher took the illegal approach of censoring speech and inciting students to help in this,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “No students should have to endure this kind of intimidation and harassment for simply expressing their views, but especially not those who want to help the women betrayed, and the preborn children killed, by the abortion industry.”
The case against Thatcher was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which said his actions were a clear violation of free speech.
The lawsuit contends Thatcher’s decision to erase the students’ messages, to recruit students to help in his censorship, and to harass and intimidate the group violates their fundamental right to freedom of speech.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators and voters. That’s why it’s so important that university professors model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone that this Fresno State professor, like so many other university officials across the country, is communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.
WND left a message at Thatcher’s office requesting comment but did not get a response.
The legal team explained it was Bernadette Tasy, the president of Fresno State Students for Life, who at first found students rubbing away the chalkings. The messages supported pregnant and parenting students and presented information about the development of an unborn child.
They told her Thatcher had encouraged them to do that.
Then Thatcher appeared, lectured Tasy on free speech, misstating “both the law and university policy,”
Thatcher stated: “You had permission to put [the chalkings] down. … I have permission to get rid of it.”
ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham said no university professor “has the authority to roam the campus, silencing any student speech he happens to find objectionable and recruiting students to participate in this censorship.”
“Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respect students’ free speech rights,” he said. “And they should encourage all students to participate in the marketplace of ideas, rather than silencing those with whom they happen to differ. The professor’s actions here represent a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”
The complaint says Thatcher “personally erased Fresno State Students for Life pro-life expression and claimed that plaintiffs had no right to express their views peacefully on campus – whether by chalking sidewalks or otherwise – outside the ‘speech zone.’”
Thatcher, the complaint says, “claimed that he was exercising his free speech rights by censoring plaintiff’s speech and by directing students to do the same.”
The court documents say Tasy carefully went through the process and formally obtained permission for the chalking.
Those messages included:
- “You CAN be pregnant & successful.”
- “Women need love, NOT abortion.”
- “Support pregnant + parenting students.”
- “The essence of all humanity is inside a fetus.”
- “Fetus is Latin for small child.”
- “Love them both. Choose life.”
The case alleges that besides wiping off the pro-life messages, someone using sidewalk chalk stolen from the Students for Life then wrote pro-abortion messages on the walkways, too.
Thatcher lectured the students then: “Free speech is free speech in the free speech area. It’s a pretty simple concept. OK? This does not constitute a free speech area.”
The legal filing notes that what Thatcher did also violates school policy.
Fresno State’s “Policy on the Use of University buildings and Grounds” states: “The right of self-expression does not extend to preventing self-expression by others.
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