Pro-life students are suing a Fresno State University professor who erased their sidewalk chalk messages and recruited students to do the same while claiming “college campuses are not free speech areas.”
The lawsuit, filed Thursday by the Alliance Defending Freedom, argues health professor Gregory Thatcher violated the First Amendment by stifling the free speech of the pro-life students.
“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,” ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham said in a statement. “Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respects students’ free speech rights.”
Fresno State Students for Life received permission from the public university last April to write life-affirming messages on campus sidewalks. But Mr. Thatcher took umbrage at the chalkings and, in an incident caught on camera, confronted the pro-life students responsible.
“The whole idea of free speech is that we have a free speech area here on campus, OK?” the health professor says in the video.
Bernadette Tasy, a pro-life student, tells him that the group received permission for their demonstration from the university. But Mr. Thatcher insists that they relocate to the designated free speech area.
“Free speech is free speech in the free speech area,” he says. “It’s a pretty simple concept, OK? This does not constitute a free speech area, OK?”
The professor proceeds to erase the pro-life chalkings, claiming that stifling the free speech of others is an exercise of free speech.
“You see, you had permission to put it down; I have permission to get rid of it,” he says in the video as he stamps out a chalk message. “This is our part of free speech. Do you disagree with our part of free speech?”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said professors should not be in the business of harassing their students.
“No students should have to endure this kind of intimidation and harassment for simply expressing their views,” Ms. Hawkins said in a statement, “but especially not those who want to help the women betrayed, and the preborn children killed, by the abortion industry.”
Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said protecting free speech on college campuses is imperative.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, educators, and voters,” Mr. Mattox said in a statement. “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.”
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