A Fresno State professor sued by students after interfering with their anti-abortion messages on campus says he did nothing wrong – and didn’t pay $17,000 in a settlement despite an announcement made by Alliance Defending Freedom on Thursday.
“I admitted absolutely no wrongdoing, and I did not have to pay a dime,” public health professor Greg Thatcher said Friday. The costs were covered by his insurance company through the National Education Association, he said.
A video shows Thatcher telling members of the university’s Students for Life club in May that they were not allowed to write chalk messages in that area of campus, despite their offers to show him they had received written permission to do so.
Thatcher is seen in the video scrubbing out messages like “women need love, not abortion” with his shoe. “You have permission to put it down; I have permission to get rid of it,” Thatcher says in the video. The video also shows students removing the messages, saying Thatcher instructed them to do so.
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I operated correctly and within my bounds.
Fresno State professor Greg Thatcher
Students Bernadette Tasy and Jesus Herrera allege in the lawsuit that Thatcher’s actions denied them their right to freedom of speech, but Thatcher said Friday he was simply enforcing university rules.
“To me, this was a policy issue. This had nothing to do with freedom of speech,” he said. “Their message was irrelevant. This had to do with the fact that they were putting chalk in areas where they were not permitted, by my understanding of the university policy at the time. I operated correctly and within my bounds.”
In the video, Thatcher says he is “perfectly fine” with the students’ chalking as long as it’s done in a designated free speech zone. However, the university said in May it does not have a designated free speech zone, and that “our entire campus is open and supports freedom of expression.”
No public university professor has the authority to silence any student speech he happens to find objectionable.
Travis Barham, Alliance Defending Freedom
On Thursday, the university pointed to its free speech policy which states, “while freedom of expression is allowed in all outdoor spaces on campus, the Speaker’s Platform is the most common place where individuals and groups assemble to exercise the right of free expression unless the space has already been scheduled in advance.”
Thatcher declined to comment on that policy.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro released a brief statement on the matter: “Fresno State will continue to educate its students, faculty and staff about their First Amendment rights and support freedom of speech by all,” he said in an email.
Fresno State will continue to educate its students, faculty and staff about their First Amendment rights and support freedom of speech.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro
In a news release, Alliance Defending Freedom – a conservative nonprofit that represented Tasy and Herrera – said Thatcher was to pay $15,000 to the organization for attorney fees and $1,000 each to the two students, in addition to undergoing two hours of First Amendment training.
Thatcher said he agreed to a free-speech seminar because “I love to do stuff like that – to learn about other people’s opinions and thoughts.”
A court order filed last week prohibits Thatcher from disrupting similar student activities in the future.
“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,” ADF attorney Travis Barham said.