Pro-life Fresno students sue professor over literal erasure of free speech

A group of group of pro-life students at Fresno State in California learned some rough lessons in free speech and the legal system recently, leading to a court case which will no doubt receive national attention. It seems that the group, Fresno State Students for Life, made plans to write some pro-life messages in chalk on the sidewalks outside the school library and obtained the required permits for a public display from the school. When the time came, they crafted their messages, including one which read, “You CAN be pregnant & successful” on the pavement, but quickly received an unexpected surprise. One of the professors from the school showed up and informed them that their free speech was in “the wrong place” and he would be coming back to clean up the unwelcome display. (CNN)

Shortly before finishing, the lawsuit claims, William Thatcher, an assistant professor of public health, approached the group and said they had to keep their messages to the university’s free speech area.

According to Bernadette Tasy, one of the organizers with the group and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Thatcher then said he would be back to remove the messages. Tasy says he returned with a group of students and they attempted to remove the group’s messages.

Video provided to CNN by the group’s lawyers shows Thatcher starting to erase the messages with his foot.

Here’s one video of the professor coming back with a group of presumably pro-abortion students who he enlisted to wipe out the chalk display because it wasn’t in “the free speech zone.”

As indicated in the CNN piece, this has resulted in the pro-life group launching a lawsuit against the professor. Before proceeding, I just wanted to offer a quick note on CNN’s coverage of this story in the linked article. Take particular note of the fact that the headline of the piece reads, “Anti-abortion student group sues California professor over free speech.” You will observe that the hyphenated phrase anti-abortion appears several times in plain text. Then check out this short paragraph.

Tasy claims the students also took some of their chalk and wrote “pro-abortion messages” on the same sidewalk. The messages included “My body, my choice” and “Your body, your choice. I (heart) you.”

Isn’t it curious that anti-abortion can be liberally sprinkled throughout the article in normal text, but pro-abortion is put in scare quotes? And not once in the entire article will you find the phrase pro-life. They just can’t bring themselves to utter the words. But as I said, that’s just an aside. Moving on.

These free speech cases can often be tough ones to pursue, particularly when you’re fighting the entire university. But in this case I’m guessing that the pro-life students may have a significantly easier path because the university administration is throwing the professor under the bus already. (Emphasis added)

In a statement to CNN, Joseph Castro, president of California State University, Fresno, said the school’s policy on free speech is clear.

Free speech on campus is not limited to a ‘free speech zone’ or any other narrowly defined area,” he said. “Those disagreeing with the students’ message have a right to their own speech, but they do not have the right to erase or stifle someone else’s speech under the guise of their own right to free speech.”

Going back to the video, this portion of the debate hinges on what was truly one of the ugliest things said by the professor. (Among many.) He told the pro-life students that they needed to take their display over to “the free speech zone” despite the fact that they had a demonstration permit for the precise area where they displayed the chalk messages. Apparently he’s not aware that we already have a free speech zone: it’s called the United States. And the remarks from the University president are now on record completely refuting what the professor was saying.

This is one free speech case which may sail through trial and see the professor actually paying a price for his actions. Whether or not they can also pursue the students from his class who he enlisted to literally erase free speech remains to be seen. It looked as if they were already onboard with the message, but if it was classroom time and he actually “enlisted” them it may remove some of their culpability.