The Point: Free Speech Can Cost You

A victory for free speech on campus.  For the Colson Center, I’m John Stonestreet with the Point.

Free speech can cost you—especially if you try to deny someone else their right to free speech.

That’s what a Fresno State University professor should have learned when he and several of his students tried to erase pro-life chalk messages placed on the school sidewalk by Fresno State Students for Life.

When a Student for Life confronted him (calmly), he told her that she wasn’t a so-called “free speech zone.” Well, the campus hadn’t had a free speech zone since 2015, and when the student told him she had official university permission to write the messages, he began to erase a message with his foot.

Happily, one judge wasn’t buying it. He fined the professor $17,000 and ordered him to undergo First Amendment training provided by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The teacher hasn’t admitted wrong-doing and says he’ll take the training because he loves to “hear other peoples’ thoughts and opinions.”

That’s good. Let’s hope he—and many other professors like him—will listen.

 


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  • Phoenix1977

    “Free speech can cost you—especially if you try to deny someone else their right to free speech.”
    It won’t cost him anything since the fine is covered by his insurance. At best it will cost him some free time following the “training” by the Alliance Defending Freedom. Big deal.

    What I wonder about: if texts chalked down by a pro-life group are freedom of speech erasing them would also be freedom of speech. So why is the professor’s freedom of speech not protected in this case?

    • Scott

      Instead of vandalizing someone else’s message, why didn’t he get permission from the college to write his own?

      As a college professor, I wonder why he didn’t think that one through a little better.

      • Phoenix1977

        “Instead of vandalizing someone else’s message, why didn’t he get permission from the college to write his own?”
        Probably because he thought it was beneath him to do so. It is kinda primitive, taking a piece of chalk and start writing things on the sidewalk. My next door neighbor does that kind of stuff and she’s 5 years old.

        “As a college professor, I wonder why he didn’t think that one through a little better.”
        Well, for one because I doubt there was a plan behind any of this from his side. And erasing someone else’s message is a far more powerful statement than writing your own underneath it.

        • David Carlson

          it’s a very powerful statement. And one that crosses the line. As the judge ruled. But now I’m getting the feeling, Phoenix, that conflict and chaos is your goal. That’s a pity.

          • Phoenix1977

            “As the judge ruled.”
            I would have appealed that ruling. If one message is protected under the First Amendment the professor’s should have been as well. I would not have accepted that ruling. And I most certainly would not have participated in any training by the ADF. They’re hardly an impartial party in any of these cases.

            “But now I’m getting the feeling, Phoenix, that conflict and chaos is your goal.”
            Chaos is the natural way of the universe. But, more importantly, humanity grows through chaos, not through order. It’s not my fault chaos and conflict often go hand in hand.

          • Scott

            “Chaos is the natural way of the universe”

            Really? That is an interesting statement coming from a scientist? Chaos is definitely not our experience in the natural world here on earth. For example: there is nothing random or chaotic about how the cell functions. It is a masterpiece of order.

          • Phoenix1977

            “Chaos is definitely not our experience in the natural world here on earth.”
            Ever heard of entropy?

            “For example: there is nothing random or chaotic about how the cell functions. It is a masterpiece of order.”
            Until the cells die, which is quite chaotic, feeding entropy.

          • Scott

            “Until the cells die, which is quite chaotic, feeding entropy.”

            The death of a cell is not chaotic… it is inevitable. Even predictable.

          • Phoenix1977

            Ever studied dying cells under a microscope? Pretty much the definition of chaos.

          • Scott

            When the cell begins to die, some of the parts that once performed their task begin to malfunction creating a “gradual decline into disorder.” This is exactly as you said except there was first order.

            I can agree with you about chaos being a part of things. Where I take exception how you phrased your statement “Chaos is the natural way of the universe.” Without order there would be no chaos. Both exist and neither without the other. Therefore order is also part of the “natural way of the universe.”

            

One thing I find incredibly curious is that order is the cell’s natural state in life. Chaos begins in death. Perhaps God is revealing something there?

          • Phoenix1977

            “Without order there would be no chaos.”
            Hmm, this is getting a little too philosophical for me. But I cannot find an error in your reasoning.

            “Perhaps God is revealing something there?”
            Perhaps. If your god existed.

        • Scott

          “And erasing someone else’s message is a far more powerful statement than writing your own underneath it.”

          In America it’s also considered vandalism. : – )

          • Phoenix1977

            In Europe removing chalk messages from the pavement is considered cleaning your own mess 🙂 And even mandatory for parents with children, let alone for adults.

        • Scott

          “Probably because he thought it was beneath him to do so. It is kinda primitive, taking a piece of chalk and start writing things on the sidewalk. My next door neighbor does that kind of stuff and she’s 5 years old.”

          What! During our block parties we make sidewalk art with the neighbor kids… and even draw four square courts in the the street (its blocked off for these events). Alas, I guess this makes me primitive. : – )

          • Phoenix1977

            “Alas, I guess this makes me primitive. : – )”
            I am so not going there 🙂

  • David Carlson

    Well, if the right to freedom of speech were absolute, you’d have a point. But it’s not. Famously, for instance, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

    If you watch the video of the event, you’ll see that the professor, as he erased the pro-life message, claimed that he was exercising his free speech rights. Clearly the judge didn’t agree.

    The professor was free to disagree with the message, free to write his own message, but the judge felt he crossed a line–impinged on the rights of others–by erasing someone else’s message.

    • Phoenix1977

      Erasing a message is also a message and therefor should be equally protected under the First Amendment.

      • Scott

        “Erasing a message is also a message and therefor should be equally protected under the First Amendment.”

        Or in this case, not (as the judge ruled).

        What if one were to “erase” a message on a billboard by peeling off the print?.. or ripping down posters taped to the wall?.. Shall I go on. Isn’t it better to make your own message rather than tamper with someone else’s? The question is rhetorical.

      • Mark

        There is a difference between denying someone’s right to free speech and opposing them with your own free speech. In other words, how can you have a debate and allow others to consider the merits of your position if all you do is silence your opponent? It becomes obvious that your argument is very fragile.

    • Scott

      You can’t trample/vandalize other people’s message… instead write your own. It’s that simple.

  • Tyler

    It’s incredibly immature. Honestly, my work as a middle school counselor had me dealing with these exact same issues with 6th and 7th graders during recess. I think it’s important to avoid simply arguing a point to make your own. I think it’s certainly rude and immature to erase a message someone else has the right to express. But it is just chalk. However, the first amendment protects people from coerced or forced silencing by their government, not each other. I don’t see this as (functionally) any different than when Westboro Baptist Church “protests” soldiers’ funerals. So on the one hand, I’m glad the judge upheld the rights of this group to demonstrate, and maybe it was because a member of the faculty of a public university was trying to silence them (as an extension of the State). On the other hand, it’s just chalk, get over it, you’re at a university, have a public debate.