Students for Life Wins Free Speech Case with Settlement in California

Fresno State Professor Ordered to Make Restitution and Undergo First Amendment Training

“College campuses should be a place of vigorous and respectful debate, but instead we often find people like Professor Greg Thatcher who abuse authority to block pro-life speech,” said SFLA’s Kristan Hawkins.

Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins called the settlement announced today in Fresno State Students for Life v. William Gregory Thatcher “a victory for all students who have the same Constitutional rights as professors. As our interactive map illustrates, nationwide we are seeing incredible opposition to pro-life speech as our student leaders and volunteers speak for the defenseless, reach out to pregnant women, and educate on the violence of abortion. But as this case illustrates, we are not going to be silent, even if it takes going to court. I want to thank Alliance Defending Freedom for fighting to protect the rights of our students who bravely speak up for preborn children every day. Right now, Students for Life is engaged in an Abortion = Violence campaign that is going to more than 90 college campuses, so let this case put college administrations on notice that we expect students’ rights to be respected and that the free market place of ideas include college campuses.”

In May, Bernadette Tasy, the president of Fresno State Students for Life, received permission to chalk pro-life messages near the school library. The messages expressed support for pregnant and parenting students and presented information about the development of an unborn child. Tasy observed and recorded students destroying the messages, telling her that they were instructed to by Dr. Thatcher, a public health professor.

Thatcher then proceeded to give Tasy 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 said, “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. Thatcher also said, “College campuses are not free speech areas.”

In the settlement, Thatcher will pay $1,000 to Tasy and $1,000 to another student, Jesus Herrera, along with some attorneys’ fees. The professor is also required to undergo some First Amendment training to be provided by ADF.

When the lawsuit was filed, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom observed: “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.”

As Hawkins’ recent column “Shouldn’t Pro-Life Students Have the Same Free Speech Rights as Millionaire Athletes?” illustrates, SFLA has been engaged in protecting students’ rights nationwide. For interviews, e-mail khamrick@studentsforlife.org