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Fresno State Prof. to Pro-Life Students: “College campuses are not free speech areas”

Fresno State Prof. to Pro-Life Students: “College campuses are not free speech areas”

Gets Sued By Student Group For Removing Pro-Life “Chalking” Messages

Earlier this month, DNC chair Tom Perez famously declared that every Democrat should be pro-abortion, and apparently a garbled version of this memo seeped down to one Fresno State professor as “every person should be pro-abortion . . . or be silenced.”

Assistant professor of public health Gregory Thatcher directed his class to erase pro-life messages that Students for Life had written in chalk on the sidewalks at Fresno State, a public university.

The interaction between Thatcher and the student reporter resulted in a jaw-dropping exchange in which Thatcher condescendingly explains that such messages are only appropriate in “free speech areas.” He further notes, “College campuses are not free speech areas.”

The Fresno Bee reports:

Video footage shows Greg Thatcher, a professor of public health, scrubbing out messages like “women need love, not abortion” with his shoe and instructing other students to do the same. Thatcher claimed that the messages would only be allowed in a designated “free speech area” on campus, and says in the video that “college campuses are not free speech areas.”

However, Fresno State no longer has such a free speech zone, and an official said in a statement Thursday that “our entire campus is open and supports freedom of expression.”


His initial “defense” appeared to be one of denial because he first asked if his students had been seen wiping out the messages. When the Student for Life interviewer said she not only had seen it but had video of it, Thatcher chose to double-down.

He stalked over to the nearest pro-life message and began erasing it with his foot, while stating (erroneously) that he has “permission” to “get rid of it.”

Free speech at Fresno State, at least as understood by this person, is restricted to specially-designated free speech areas, yet his own free speech in that same zero tolerance zone is apparently just fine as long as it entails curtailing pro-life students’ free speech.

Or something.

Not so fast, says Fresno State president Joseph Castro, whose statement on the incident explicitly notes there is no “free speech zone” or other such designation on the campus.  He further notes that the matter is under review and being taken “very seriously.”

Fox 26 reports on the response they received from Castro:

“Fresno State supports and defends the right of students to free speech and the peaceful expression of ideas on campus. The university’s policy is clear: free speech on campus is not limited to a “free speech zone” or any other narrowly defined area. Universities have an obligation to encourage the free expression of ideas, values and opinions.

The students who wrote the chalk messages received prior university approval and were well within their rights to express themselves in this manner.

Those disagreeing with the students’ message have a right to their own speech, but they do not have the right to erase or stifle someone else’s speech under the guise of their own right to free speech. We are reviewing this matter and take the situation very seriously.”

-Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro

Not so fast, say, too, the Alliance Defending Freedom who have filed suit [embedded below] on behalf of the students.

The Fresno Bee continues:

The lawsuit alleges that universities across the country censor ideas that the administration doesn’t agree with and that professors “manipulate student passions.” Thatcher “assigned himself the role of student speech censor, a one-man taxpayer-paid heckler’s veto over student expression that differs with his own views,” the lawsuit says.

Travis Barham, an attorney with Alliance for Defending Freedom – a Christian nonprofit that is representing the students – said he hopes the case will be used to warn professors across the country about students’ rights to free speech.

“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,” Barham said. “Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respect students’ free speech rights. 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.”

Students for Life of America also issued a statement condemning the professor’s actions.

“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 pre-born children killed, by the abortion industry,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of the group.

Fresno State Students for Life Complaint by Legal Insurrection on Scribd


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Another one of the gillions of examples of,

“If the shoe had been on the other foot, . . .”

Just what an intellectual coward would say, isn’t it?

    DaveGinOly in reply to profshadow. | May 14, 2017 at 12:08 am

    People who act like this betray their own lack of confidence in, and an inability to defend, their own opinions. Silencing the opposition is their only viable course of action.

buckeyeminuteman | May 12, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Free speech applies to your apparel, or lack thereof, as well. If the campus is not a free speech zone, why is he wearing that $h!tsburgh Squeelers shirt? It’s offense and should be removed.

With great sadness, the Professors is correct, college campuses are not free speech areas. They are political indoctrination centers.

Some free speech, even if it’s not in a “free speech area”, is more equal than other free speech, if authorized by Professor Thatcher.

National Socialists, Communists, Democrats, one-child, selective-child, abortion chambers, and Mengele clinics, Planned Parenthood, oh my.

No judgment.

“College campuses are not free speech areas.”

Fascists gots to fascist. Listen up fesces for brains: As long as my US tax dollars are subsidizing a US campus on US soil, the US Constitution is in full effect.

Now, go buy me chalk, nitwit!

Albigensian | May 12, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Presumably the school would be within its rights if it were to prohibit the use of chalk on some or all of its pavement, but not if it were to prohibit some chalked messages because it disapproved of what they had to say.

Is this professor trying to claim he and his students were just distressed at chalkings in general, even though it seems self-evident that his objection was to the political content of the chalked messages?

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Albigensian. | May 13, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    The University President even admits they had premission to use chalk on the sidewalk. This is not the Universities fault, it is the “Professors”. Now this will be a University problem if the professor isn’t disciplined properly.

F.I.R.E. is going to have to be really busy this year.

What the hell is an assistant professor of public health and why do we need them? I’m pretty sure the maintenance staff can pressure wash sidewalks much more efficiently, at a considerably lower cost, and without public embarrassment. Looks to me like Fresno State has at least one more assistant professor of public health than they need.

Finally! An honest professor!

Sam in Texas | May 12, 2017 at 4:51 pm

“Assistant professor of public health Gregory Thatcher”

A Phys Ed teacher?

PersonFromPorlock | May 12, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Wouldn’t the apposite thing have been to agree with him that it’s not a free speech area and then tell him to “shut the f— up!”?

Erasing your speech is my free speech says this genius. “It’s not a hard concept.” We obstruct each other’s speech so that nobody can talk and that is what the founders neant by free speech.

    Milhouse in reply to AlecRawls. | May 12, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Um, he’s 100% correct. So long as he’s acting in a private capacity, his constitutional right to erase their chalkings is just as solid as theirs to make them. The only thing that can privilege their speech over his may be college policy.

      SDN in reply to Milhouse. | May 13, 2017 at 9:26 am

      1. He’s a college professor, formally designated as an agent of the college. It’s up to the college to take responsibility for their designated agent.

      2. Action destroying another person’s created work is not free speech. Neither is book burning unless you own the books. This clown is about to pay for destroying a created work he doesn’t own.

      DaveGinOly in reply to Milhouse. | May 14, 2017 at 12:14 am

      I agree, but you’re wrong about the capacity in which he was acting. He was plainly directing his students, using his presumed authority over them as their professor – so he was acting in his professional capacity, and that’s what makes him wrong.

      Personally, I used to live and work near a major liberal NE university campus, and would frequently tear from telephone poles posters and declarations that I found offensive. The people who stapled them to the phone poles placed their speech (to which they have a right) on public property. I figured I had as much right to demonstrate my opposition to their postings by removing their screeds from public property. OTOH, I would never tear down or steal a similar placard from private property.

It seems to me that while he can be enjoined from intimidating the plaintiffs, and from using his official position to instruct his students to erase their chalkings, he has the constitutional right in his private capacity to erase them, and to urge his students to join him in doing so, and can’t be enjoined from these activities. This may be against college policy, but the court has no authority to enforce that policy.

What’s more, if the plaintiffs’ suggestion that the sidewalks might be traditional public fora is correct, then such a college policy would itself be unconstitutional. (If they’re merely designated public fora then a content-neutral policy against erasing other people’s speech might be valid.)

    Ironman in reply to Milhouse. | May 13, 2017 at 9:43 am

    But Thatcher was not acting in a private capacity, all of his actions were under the color of law. The other students said “we have a teacher that is telling us to get rid of it.” That means he was using his authority as a professor at the school to engage other students to erase the chalk marks. Those students did not see him as Mr. Thatcher private citizen, they saw him as Professor Thatcher. Also, erasing the chalk marks does NOT constitute free speech on his part.

Whataboutbub | May 13, 2017 at 12:23 am

This is specifically to address the argument that removing her messages is a form of free speech and is protected:

I’m no attorney, but since the U owns that property and gave her specific permission to write her message on its property, might that give her messages (assuming they are hers) protection from being removed. If the U posted a message on its own at the U, would it be protected free speech to erase the U’s message? Assuming the answer is “no”, wouldn’t her speech come under the same umbrella since the U gave her specific permission to write it on its property?