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Professor to pay $17K, undergo free speech training after censoring students' messages

Video from the incident. (Courtesy: Alliance Defending Freedom) 

A Fresno State University professor will pay $17,000 and undergo First Amendment training by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys as part of a legal settlement after he told students from his class to join him in erasing a pro-life student group’s sidewalk chalk messages.

On Friday, a federal court issued an order, agreed to by all parties, in the lawsuit that Fresno State Students for Life filed in May over the Professor Gregory Thatcher's actions. The order prohibits the professor from interfering with the group’s expression.

Under the settlement of Fresno State Students for Life v. Thatcher, public health professor Gregory Thatcher will pay $1,000 in damages to each of two club leaders and $15,000 in attorneys’ fees. He will undergo two hours of First Amendment training by ADF Center for Academic Freedom attorneys, and he has agreed to an injunction that prohibits him from interfering in future Students for Life events or directing others to do so.

The incident happened back in May. The Fresno State Students for Life received permission to chalk positive, life-affirming messages on the sidewalks leading to the university’s library. As its members finished chalking these messages on the morning of May 2, Thatcher confronted them—saying they could not chalk messages near the library and could only express themselves in the so-called “free speech area,” which the university had actually eliminated almost two years earlier.

After club president Bernadette Tasy explained she had the university’s permission to chalk messages in that spot, Thatcher said that he would return to erase the messages shortly. He then brought at least seven students from his class to erase the pro-life chalk messages. When Tasy reminded him that the club was acting with full permission, Thatcher walked over to one of the pro-life messages and began erasing it himself, saying that he was exercising his free speech rights and that “college campuses are not free speech areas.” Thatcher’s statements and actions were captured on video.


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