The Students for Life group at California State University, Fresno (“Fresno State”) recorded an altercation on video that occurred on May 2nd with a university professor who berated the group 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, which were pre-approved by the school.
A link to the video is here.
“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.”
Bernadette Tasy, the president of Fresno State Students for Life, initially caught students scrubbing away the chalkings – which were messages expressing support for pregnant and parenting students and presenting information about the development of an unborn child – that the group had written. They informed her that their professor, Dr. Gregory Thatcher, had encouraged the students to wipe away the chalkings.
Dr. Thatcher, a public health professor, then proceeded to give Bernadette a lecture on free speech that misstated both the law and university policy, claiming that the group could only speak in a speech zone the university eliminated two years ago. Eventually, he announced, “You had permission to put [the chalkings] down. . . . I have permission to get rid of it,” as he used his sneaker to scrub over what was written. Compounding his errors, he then he proclaimed: “College campuses are not free speech areas.”
Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Fresno State Students for Life against Dr. Greg Thatcher for his clear violation of the group’s free speech rights.
The lawsuit, Fresno State Students for Life v. Thatcher, explains that Professor Thatcher’s decision to erase Students for Life’s expression, to recruit students to help in his censorship, and to harass and intimidate the group violates their fundamental right to freedom of speech. Additionally, the complaint asks the court to block Thatcher “and any other persons acting on his behalf or at his direction from interfering, disrupting, or altering any future lawful expressive activities that [Fresno State Students for Life and its members] conduct.”
“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.