We previously discussed the case of Fresno State University Public Health Professor Dr. Gregory Thatcher recruited students to destroy pro-life messages written on the sidewalks and wrongly told the pro-life students that they had no free speech rights in the matter. As I stated earlier, I find it extraordinary that the university did not seriously discipline or terminate Thatcher, but he still remains on the faculty. A district court has now ordered Thatcher to pay $17,000 and undergo First Amendment training. However, Thatcher remains defiant and the university appears complicit in his actions by the lack of disciplinary action.
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 money will largely go to attorneys’ fees for the victims, but Thatcher will pay $1,000 to Tasy and $1,000 to another student, Jesus Herrera. Thatcher appeared unrepented in comments after the settlement. He noted that he would not have to pay a cent from his own pocket and that any money would be paid by his insurance company. He then added this disturbing comment:
“I did not, in any way, admit to any wrongdoing. I did agree to sit through a training seminar because I love to learn others’ thoughts and opinions.”
Of course, the “others’ thoughts and opinions” happen to be a basic respect for free speech — an area in which Thatcher appears to be both ignorant and intolerant. Moreover, Thatcher did not appear to “love . . . . learn[ing] other’s thoughts and opinions” when he was taunting and censoring these pro-life activists.
It is equally clear that he remains contemptful of the free speech claims of the victims and equally undeterred in such matters. His comments reveal a deeper problem at Fresno State University where faculty can lead students in seeking to censor opposing views and not face serious punishment.
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 actively encouraged 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.
Thatcher remains listed as faculty in the Department of Public Health.