Prof settles free speech lawsuit, but remains defiant
- A Fresno State University professor has agreed to pay $17,000 and attend First Amendment training to settle a lawsuit filed after he led students in defacing pro-life chalk messages.
- Public health professor Gregory Thatcher was caught on video urging his students to scrub away the chalkings, insisting at the time that he had a First Amendment right to do so.
A Fresno State University professor has agreed to pay $17,000 and attend First Amendment training to settle a lawsuit filed after he led students in defacing pro-life chalk messages.
As previously reported by Campus Reform, the school’s Students for Life chapter had secured administrative approval to write the chalk messages, but were confronted as they did so by public health professor Gregory Thatcher, who insisted that freedom of speech entitled him to remove the messages and actively encouraged several of his students to do so.
When the pro-life student, Bernadette Tasy, informed him that she had permission from the school to write the messages, Thatcher erroneously declared that she was not within a designated free speech zone.
“The whole idea of free speech is that we have a free speech area on campus, kay?” he stated. “This does not constitute a free speech area, okay?”
Thatcher also incorrectly claimed that “college campuses are not free speech areas,” adding, “Do you understand? Obviously you don’t understand.”
The university, however, eliminated its free speech zone policy two years earlier, and stated in May that that the “entire campus is open and supports freedom of expression,” according to The Fresno Bee.
When Campus Reform reached out to Thatcher, he said he has not changed his mind about the meaning of free speech, claiming he has read the First Amendment and does not feel bad for his behavior.
Thatcher’s settlement stipulates $1,000 in damages to each of two club leaders and $15,000 in attorneys’ fees, but his insurance company, provided to him through the National Education Association, will cover the full cost.
“I admitted absolutely no wrongdoing, and I did not have to pay a dime,” Thatcher told The Fresno Bee, adding that he doesn’t even mind the requirement that he attend First Amendment training, because “I love to do stuff like that—to learn about other people’s opinions and thoughts.”
Thatcher is also prohibited from interfering with future Students for Life activities or instructing others to do so.
“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,” declared ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “Like all government officials, professors have an obligation to respect the constitutionally protected free speech of students.”
“We hope the outcome of this case helps college officials everywhere understand that the free marketplace of ideas includes college campuses,” added Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins. “Nationwide, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless, reach out to pregnant women, and educate on the violence of abortion.”
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