published on May 11, 2017 - 12:05 PM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

Fresno State Students for Life, a campus group, has filed a federal lawsuit against a Fresno State instructor who was filmed defacing pro-life messages written on a campus sidewalk.

The lawsuit alleges that Assistant Professor Greg Thatcher violated students’ right to free speech by asking his own students to rub out the chalk messages with their feet. Students Bernadette Tasy and Jesus Herrera are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in federal court today.

The attorneys of an Arizona-based group called Alliance Defending Freedom are representing the students, according to a news release. The suit seeks injunctive and and monetary relief over the incident, which occurred May 2, according to court documents.

The students went through the proper channels for permission to write the messages, according to the lawsuit. The messages included: “Pregnant? Need Help? Call 800-712-Help,” “You CAN be pregnant & successful,” and “At 20 weeks, the human fetus can feel pain.” About 35 to 50 messages were written along the sidewalk from the Henry Madden Library to the campus fountain, according to the lawsuit.

Part of the incident was captured in a video posted to the YouTube page of Alliance Defending Freedom.

Thatcher is seen on the video telling the students the messages were not written on the campus’s designated free speech area. He then proceeded to rub out one of the messages with his shoe as a student filmed.

“As recent events show, university officials, including professors, often seek to silence those who express ideas to which they object,” according to the lawsuit. “Some manipulate student passions so that these students will carry out, or at least assist in, the censorship.”

When reached by phone this morning, Thatcher, who works in Fresno State’s Department of Public Health, said he was unaware of the lawsuit.

Fresno State issued a statement regarding the incident Thursday afternoon:

“Fresno State supports and defends the right of students to free speech and the peaceful expression of ideas on campus. The university’s policy is clear: free speech on campus is not limited to a ‘free speech zone’ or any other narrowly defined area. Universities have an obligation to encourage the free expression of ideas, values and opinions.

“The students who wrote the chalk messages received prior university approval and were well within their rights to express themselves in this manner.

“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. We are reviewing this matter and take the situation very seriously.”

The incident comes a few weeks after another Fresno State instructor, Lars Maischak, took a voluntarily leave of absence from campus over tweets calling for President Donald Trump “to hang.”

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