FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A student group is suing a Fresno State University professor for trampling on their free speech rights, and recruiting his students to alter, deface and scrub away their pro-life display.
On May 2, Professor Gregory Thatcher, who teaches a course on public health, directed students from his class to erase pro-life chalk signs from the campus sidewalk. The chalking had been done by Students for Life of America, which had obtained permission from the university for its display.
The confrontation with Thatcher was caught on camera by Bernadette Tasy, president of Fresno State Students for Life, showing Thatcher erroneously telling Tasy that her group had no permission to post its display and had to remove the signs to a designated "free speech area."
During the confrontation, he himself scrubbed away the chalking with the bottom of his shoes, saying, "You had permission to put [the chalkings] down. ... I have permission to get rid of it."
Fresno State's free speech policy explicitly states," The right of self-expression does not extend to preventing self-expression by others."
Thatcher also falsely declared, "College campuses are not free speech areas" — contrary to the university's policy, which asserts that "freedom of expression is allowed in all outdoor spaces on campus."
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit against Thatcher on behalf of Students for Life Thursday, alleging unconstitutional infringement on the student group's free speech rights under the First Amendment.
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," stated the lawsuit. "In the process, he engaged in content and viewpoint discrimination and restricted speech in areas that are at least designated public fora for student speech."
Some of the pro-life slogans chalked on the sidewalk include:
At one point, after Thatcher's students defaced the pro-life slogans at Thatcher's direction, it was discovered that a student had taken the pro-life group's chalk and written pro-abortion slogans on another sidewalk.
Thatcher's students also altered at least one pro-life sign. The original wording was "Women need love, not abortion." It was changed to remove the words "not abortion."
"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," said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham.
"Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respect students' free speech rights," he continued. "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."
"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.
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