We have been writing about the enculturation of anti-free speech values in college students across the country. The most recent incident occurred at the California State University where assistant professor of public health professor Greg Thatcher is shown on a videotape wiping out the pro-life statements written in chalk by members of Fresno State Students for Life. Thatcher supports his students who destroyed the messages before his arrival (those students said that their teacher gave them permission to destroy the free speech of other students). Thatcher’s attitude and open contempt for free speech is chilling. It is also now the subject of a free speech lawsuit filed against him in his personal capacity.
The pro-life students had written messages on the sidewalk like “You CAN be pregnant & successful” and “Unborn lives matter” to “Women need love, NOT abortion.” The lawsuit alleges that Thatcher got students from his 8 a.m. class to help remove the anti-abortion messages and that their chalk was taken away to write pro-choice slogans on the sidewalk.
The video below shows two students rubbing out the chalk statements despite the pro-life students saying that they have permission to write such messages. The students seem entirely unconcerned that they are censoring speech and engaging in a grossly intolerant act. Instead, they refer to their teacher as telling them that they should do so. Thatcher then walks up. If the encounter with students was chilling, the encounter with Thatcher is positively glacial. Thatcher invokes the controversial restriction of free speech to “zones” and says that there is no free speech rights for this type of writing outside of that zone. When the students explain that they have permission, he then proceed to rub out their messages and declared “you have permission to put it down — I have permission to get rid of it.” It is a shocking and disgraceful demonstration by Thatcher and should be worthy of serious discipline. However, we have seen repeatedly that faculty members have remained silent in the face of anti-free speech conduct directed toward conservatives or pro-life advocates.
The incident raises troubling memories of the controversy surrounding the confrontation of Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young with pro-life advocates on campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Miller-Young led her students in attacking the pro-life display, stealing their display, and then committing battery on one of the young women. She was convicted and sentenced for the crime. Despite the shocking conduct of Miller-Young and the clear violation of the most fundamental values for all academics in guaranteeing free speech and associational rights, the faculty overwhelmingly supported Miller-Young and the university decided not to impose any meaningful discipline. To make matter worse, Michael D. Young, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, not only issued a statement that seemed to blame the victims but faculty defended Miller-Young’s conduct. Faculty and student defenders attacked the pro-life advocates and one even referred to them as “terrorists” who did not deserve free speech. Miller-Young should have been fired but was instead lionized by faculty and students.
Like Miller-Young, Thatcher is accused of actively encouraging his students to deny others free speech rights. In arguing that there could be no such free speech outside of the free speech zone, Thatcher appears unaware that the “free speech area” was eliminated two years ago.
The students did indeed have a right to leave the messages and Thatcher and his students were acting as censors to try to prevent their expressing views that they opposed. For me, the most disturbing image is the smug and dismissive attitude of the two students who were found destroying the messages. They have obviously learned well from faculty that you have a right to silence those with whom you disagree.