BLOGFresno State Prof Who Erased Pro-Life Chalk Messages Gets Lesson on the First Amendment

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | November 16, 2017

Remember this professor?




Back in May, Gregory Thatcher, a public health professor, took it upon himself to censor speech at Fresno State University in California, recruiting his students to erase pro-life chalk messages written by the Students for Life chapter. Fresno State Students for Life president Bernadette Tasy captured this incident on tape.

In response to an Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit, Thatcher has agreed to pay $17,000 and to undergo two hours of First Amendment training. In addition, a district court issued an order that prohibits him from disrupting future Fresno State Students for Life events.

This is great news! It ensures that Fresno State Students for Life will not have to fear more censorship and harassment from Thatcher or students he recruits.

It is also a chance to promote a better understanding of the First Amendment. And based on the video, that’s an understanding that Thatcher desperately needs.

Through his actions, Thatcher was teaching his students that the proper response to speech that you disagree with is to silence it. But this is simply wrong. The First Amendment teaches that the proper response to speech you do not like is to engage in your own speech, advancing your views peacefully.

Ridiculously, Thatcher tried to claim that he was engaging in his own free speech by erasing the messages. As he erased one of the chalk messages, Thatcher declared: “You had permission to put it down. . . I have permission to get rid of it. . . . This is our part of free speech. Do you disagree with our part of free speech?” But censorship is not free speech, and it is absurd to claim otherwise. Even Fresno State recognized this, as its policies state the obvious: “The right of self-expression does not extend to preventing self-expression by others.”

Thatcher also proclaimed that “college campuses are not free speech areas” – which is completely false. After all, college students enjoy the same First Amendment rights on campus that citizens enjoy off campus. This means that all of open, generally accessible outdoor areas of campus—like the sidewalks, plazas, quads, lawns, and other areas anyone can access—are areas for free speech for students. Courts across the country have consistently struck down “speech zones” as unconstitutional. Perhaps this is why Fresno State got rid of its speech zone two years before Thatcher appointed himself the “speech police” and deputized his students to go out censoring pro-life speech. 

Here’s the bottom line: What this professor did was wrong. The outcome of this case makes it clear that university officials cannot limit their students’ constitutional freedoms without facing the consequences. But perhaps most importantly, this case demonstrates the impact one student or a group of students can have on their campus when they know their rights and are willing to stand up for them.


Get updates on the latest cases and issues regarding free speech on college campuses.
Send Me Updates

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

More from ADF View All

No, the Sky Is Not Falling in the States that Protect Faith-Based Child Welfare Providers

Religious Freedom

No, the Sky Is Not Falling in the States that Protect Faith-Based Child Welfare Providers

Laws protecting faith-based adoption and foster care providers are a win for ...

Mr. Funny | Words | Author | I'm the icon | www | 05/17/2018 21:30:00 Read More

Why Diversity Doesn’t Equal Tolerance on College Campuses

Religious Freedom

Why Diversity Doesn’t Equal Tolerance on College Campuses

Instead of allowing students to participate in the vast marketplace of ideas,...

Mr. Funny | Words | Author | I'm the icon | www | 05/22/2018 17:04:02 Read More

How God Led Me to the Steps of the Supreme Court

Sanctity of Life

How God Led Me to the Steps of the Supreme Court

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that when God calls, you follow.

Mr. Funny | Words | Author | I'm the icon | www | 05/23/2018 16:30:00 Read More

3 Mothers Making Sacrifices for a Better Future

Culture

3 Mothers Making Sacrifices for a Better Future

On Mother’s Day, we want to take a moment and thank the mothers out there for...

Mr. Funny | Words | Author | I'm the icon | www | 05/11/2018 19:00:00 Read More