A defiant Fresno University professor decided to settle a freedom of speech lawsuit against him earlier this month filed by the student president of the college’s Students for Life Club. Last spring, Assistant Public Health Professor Greg Thatcher was caught on video telling pro-life leader Bernadette Tasy that the pro-life sidewalk chalk messages her club was leaving around campus were not allowed. The video shows Thatcher recruiting other students to help him erase the messages, while telling Tasy his actions were part of his free speech rights. (see video below)
Although Thatcher agreed to the $17,000 settlement and to undergo First Amendment training by Tasy’s attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom, he still insists he did nothing wrong. “I admitted absolutely no wrongdoing, and I did not have to pay a dime,” Thatcher told the Fresno Bee. The costs were covered by his insurance company through the National Education Association, he said.
But that isn’t the way Tasy and her attorneys viewed Thatcher’s behavior.
“No public university professor has the authority to silence any student speech he happens to find objectionable or to recruit other students to participate in his censorship,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respect the constitutionally protected free speech of students. Of all people, professors should be the first to encourage all students to participate in the marketplace of ideas rather than erase the speech of those with whom they differ. The professor’s actions here were wrong and flagrantly violated the First Amendment.”
Not even Thatcher’s University Administration would defend his actions. School officials released a statement to ABC 30 in Fresno rebutting Thatcher’s claims that Tasy’s prolife messages violated school policy:
“Fresno State supports and defends the rights of students to free speech and the peaceful expression of ideas on campus. The university policy is clear. … 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.”
ADF Senior Council Casey Mattox is the director of ADF’s Center for Academic freedom. He believes it is essential that university professors model First Amendment values for college students who will become tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators and voters. “It should disturb everyone that Dr. Thatcher and many other university officials across the country are communicating to a generation that the Constitution doesn’t matter,” said Mattox. “We trust that this settlement will help reverse that message.”
Here is the video Tasy recorded of Thatcher erasing her pro-life speech.