A Fresno State University pro-life organization is suing after a professor ordered students to erase a pro-life chalk display on campus in the name of “free speech.”
In a video posted to YouTube by the Fresno State Students for Life, a member of the group confronted fellow students who were erasing the chalkings.
“We have a teacher that’s telling us to get rid of it,” one of the students responded.
“I don’t want to be recorded,” the student complained. “That’s actually pretty illegal.” (It is actually not illegal to film someone in a public place.)
Eventually the professor, William Greg Thatcher, came over to discuss the issue himself. When the student filming insisted that they had received permission from the administration for the chalking, Thatcher insisted that they had not.
“The whole idea of free speech is that we have a free speech area on campus, OK?” Thatcher said. “This does not constitute a free speech area, OK?”
Fresno State did once have “free speech zones,” designated areas of campus which were the only places where students were allowed to demonstrate. But that policy was repealed two years ago, and administrators say the students indeed got permission for the chalk drawings.
Thatcher then began erasing the chalk messages himself with his shoe. He insisted that the act of erasing the students’ speech was his own form of “free speech.”
“College campuses are not free speech areas,” the professor of public health insisted. “Do you understand? Obviously you don’t understand.”
Fresno State Students for Life disagreed, and filed a lawsuit against Thatcher for violating their First Amendment rights. The students are defended by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit.
“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,” their lawyer said. “Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respect students’ free speech rights.”
In a statement to CNN, Joseph Castro, president of California State University, Fresno, said the school’s policy on free speech is clear.
“Free speech on campus is not limited to a ‘free speech zone’ or any other narrowly defined area,” he said. “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.”
For the record: Professor Thatcher’s PhD is in “health promotion and behavior,” which means he’d make an excellent PE teacher – not a First Amendment expert.