For the last fifteen years, I’ve been writing about the steady decline in respect for free speech on our college campuses. For those who think that dangerous trend is simply the fault of immature college students, I submit the case of Fresno State University Professor Greg Thatcher for your careful consideration. Before reading my response to Thatcher, please watch his brief sermon on the First Amendment by clicking on this link.
By way of background information, it was back in April that a Fresno State pro-life group received permission to chalk pro-life messages on the sidewalks leading to the university’s library. After they actually put some of the messages on the sidewalk, Thatcher, who teaches public health, confronted the pro-life students. In the confrontation, Thatcher alleged that the students could not chalk messages near the library, and could only engage in expression in the so-called “free speech area.” This is factually inaccurate as the university eliminated the speech zone in June of 2015.
After the president of the pro-life club explained that she had university permission to chalk messages in that precise location, Thatcher threatened to return and erase the messages. But then he did something even worse than that: He actually recruited at least seven students from his class to join him in the patently illegal enterprise of defacing constitutionally protected speech.
Fortunately, the pro-lifers caught the students on film. As seen in the video, they ran from the scene. Note that one fleeing student proclaimed a constitutional right to privacy while publicly violating the free speech rights of others. Thatcher, who is seen in the video wearing shorts and a tee shirt, then came to the rescue and told the pro-lifers, “The whole idea of free speech is that we have a free speech area on campus.” He then added, “Free speech is free speech in the free speech area. It’s a pretty simple concept.”
(Author note: The combination of unprofessional attire and dripping condescension is probably best explained by the fact that Thatcher majored in sociology as an undergraduate before discovering the more prestigious academic discipline known as “public health.”)
Just in case some people within earshot did not understand his elaboration on the “pretty simple concept” of free speech, Thatcher decided to walk over to one of the pro-life messages and offer a visual lesson by erasing it himself. Claiming that he was exercising his own free speech rights, he actually said the following: “You had permission to put it down. I have permission to get rid of it. This is our part of free speech.” He capped it all off by erroneously proclaiming, “College campuses are not free speech areas. Do you understand? Obviously you don’t understand.”
We learn at least five lessons from this incident – all of which I have been trying to express with clarity in my column for the last fifteen years:
1. College administrators, and increasingly college professors, erroneously think they have the right to paper over the constitution with their student handbooks and syllabi (creating things like speech codes and speech zones).
2. College administrators, and increasingly college professors, have so many policies that they cannot even keep track of them (most don’t even know where the miniscule “speech zones” are located).
3. College administrators, and increasingly college professors, think that destroying speech is actually protected speech (see the learned Thatcher in the video).
4. College administrators, and increasingly college professors, think the unconstitutional rules they have created apply to everyone but them (also see Thatcher expressing his “speech” in what he just deemed to be a non-speech area outside the “speech zone.”).
5. College administrators, and increasingly college professors, think it is their job to treat college students like children and shield their innocence by protecting them from “offensive” speech (hence the pun in the title of this column, which was inspired by J.D. Salinger).
In a nutshell, college campuses are free speech areas. “Professor” Greg Thatcher doesn’t understand that. But he is about to learn because pro-life students at Fresno State University are about to sue his little shorts off. And the administration should follow up on this case by firing Thatcher before he is granted tenure.
Otherwise, he will have a lifetime permit to abort free speech before it comes to term.
(Another author note: Go to www.ADFLegal.org to learn more about the fantastic lawyers who have taken this case. They are simply the best in the business.).