Leef details a college professor’s expensive lesson

George Leef’s latest Forbes column details the story of a Fresno State professor penalized for his unwillingness to accept constitutional protection of free speech.

A college professor is supposed to teach his subject and serve as a role model for students, especially when it comes to civility and respect for the rights of others. Often, however, professors feel justified in engaging in behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in children, as a recent case at Fresno State University shows.

Last April, a group of students, members of Fresno State Students for Life (FSSL), sought and received permission from the university to exercise their rights of free speech by writing pro-life messages in chalk on the sidewalks leading to the university library. They had finished their messages on the morning of May 2 when Professor Gregory Thatcher came along and accosted them.

He stated that they could not chalk their messages on the sidewalk and had to confine their free speech activities to the “free speech zone” on campus. Obviously no fan of the principles of free speech, Thatcher was not aware that Fresno State had abandoned its “speech zone” policy almost two years before. …

… The FSSL students fought back – not with violence, but through our legal system.

Aided by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), they filed suit against Thatcher in federal court. Their complaint contended that he violated their First Amendment rights in that he “assigned himself the role of student speech censor, a one-man taxpayer-paid heckler’s veto over student expression that differs from his own. In the process he engaged in content and viewpoint discrimination and restricted speech in areas that are designated as public fora for student free speech.”

On November 3, the court issued an injunction that prohibits Professor Thatcher from ever again interfering with FSSL’s First Amendment rights. It also imposes some rather hefty costs on him for his illegal actions. He has to pay $1000 each to Tasy and another student who was involved. He also has to pay $15,000 in legal fees to ADF.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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