Zero for freedom of expression

A 15-year-old boy’s anti-war sketches prompted his art teacher to call in the principal, who called in the local police, who called in the Secret Service. The Secret Service interviewed the boy and pronounced him no threat to the president’s life.

The drawing that drew the most notice showed a man in what appeared to be Middle Eastern-style clothing, holding a rifle. He was also holding a stick with an oversize head of the president on it.

The student said the head was enlarged because it was intended to be an effigy, (family friend Kevin) Cravens said. The caption called for an end to the war in Iraq.

If the Secret Service has to vet every person in America who’s drawn a caricature of the president . . . Well, that would be stupid.

The CNN story says the school disciplined the boy, but didn’t suspend him. By what right was he disciplined? What school rule did he violate?

About Joanne


  1. Doesn’t the Secret Service have anything better to do?

    I’m glad that they are prosecuting the War on Terror so effectively. Today, black turtlenecks, cigarettes, and a bad attitude. Tomorrow, al Qaeda!


  2. By Federal law, the Secret Service has to investigate every threat against the life of the President. This sometimes includes school children. Who knows, their threats may mirror what the adults around them are planning.

    As I understand it, you can be fired from your job and prosecuted for making statements interpretible as a threat to the President.

    When it comes to threatening the President, there is no such thing as free speech.

    They take this stuff seriously. These rules were in place long before John Ashcroft.

  3. What Joel said. It has always been seriously uncool to voice or even imply a threat against the President. They have to check every single one out.

  4. Yes, the Secret Service is required to check it out. You ask what rule did he break? By what right was he disciplined? Breaking the law comes to mind.

    We tend to think that just because we don’t like how something has been handled, we say that they have over-reacted. Then we go on to say someone has been victimized and their rights have been violated. What’s the option here? Ignore it? On what basis do we have to do that? We may not have reacted the same way the school officials did but they were correct in their actions.

  5. Tammy in Texas says:

    Fifteen years old isn’t exactly a child anymore. A fifteen year old could do some serious harm if he were so inclined. I haven’t seen the picture so I don’t know whether or not I think it should have been investigated, but I don’t think it’s automatically unreasonable to do so.

  6. Open ended assignments often descend into such things. We ask for journals; we get visits to psychologists. We ask for drawings; we get unpleasant imagery and visits from the Secret Service. It is not necessary for beginning writers and artists to have complete freedom for there to be any creativity involved. As with any art, the rules must be learned before they can be broken. Hell, even The Ramones knew a few chords.

    It is true that every threat to the President must be investigated, but who decided this was a threat? If anything, it was hamfisted political commentary. I can’t see any broken law here, other than the one against making the school look stupid. Then again, maybe in his locker there’s the President’s head on a stick.

  7. maybe in his locker there’s the President’s head on a stick. Well, his brain’s in a book:

  8. John from OK says:

    As a Bush backer I must weigh in on this one. How is this picture a threat to the President’s life? And what rule was broken? Drawing a gun? Characturizing (sp?) Arabs? Promoting violence? I used to doodle simple pictures of aliens. That did not mean that I intended to sell my fello humans into slavery when and if the spaceships arrived.

  9. jeff wright says:

    Yeah, the Secret Service is required by law to blah-blah-blah-blah. So find the threat. This kid did nothing more than what many political cartoonists do. There was no threat and no law was broken. Over reaction.

  10. Potential threat yes. Threat? No.
    Investigation good. Punishment? Bad.

  11. Fuzzy Rider says:

    In my (evidently) ‘dinosaur’ view of the world, only actions should be subject to discipline- thoughts and opinions should and must be free. Of course, this is a society that finds it laudable to punish people for ‘crimethink’ via idiotic ‘hate crime’ laws; I guess folks think that is OK would be comfortable with punishing this kid.

  12. Fifteen years old? I think the investigation was warranted and I can tell you why in just one word….


  13. Cousin Dave says:

    I don’t know, I’m as pro-war as it gets, but the last time I checked the First Amendment was still in force. We’ve seen actors and rock stars do much worse things and they didn’t get the Secret Service knocking on their door. And I agree with Joanne, by what rule did the school discipline the kid? If I were that teacher I might want to talk to that guy a bit about what he believes and what he thinks is/isn’t true, but it doesn’t sound like a matter for school discipline. If he had done a drawing with bin Laden’s head on a stick, would that have drawn the same punishment?

  14. The Secret Service did what they were supposed to do. When told of a potential problem they looked into it (investigated) and decided there was no problem.

    It appears this ‘may’ be another example of the schools turning over all judgement about somewhat normal matters to law enforcement. Without seeing the pictures, I certainly cannot tell what should have been done.

  15. Fuzzy Rider says:

    Why didn’t this child just go home and play incredibly violent video games like a NORMAL 15 year old???

  16. Firstly, the article says the student was disciplined–they do not say how or why–though the ‘why’ can be easily inferred.

    Zero-tolerence policies, anyone? Remember those? Kids have been disciplined for holding their hands in a way that simulates–not a gun–but simply holding a gun. They have also been disciplined for drawing guns, as has been written about on this very site.

    Second, I find it interesting that this is referred to as an ‘anti-war’ statement. Based on the text, it clearly is not. It’s against the US war—against terrorism. What the picture, and the comment add up to is a statement against the US IN FAVOR of terrorism. Read it.

    Now, there is a third criteria that we cannot know. Is the student in question someone who might be more connected to these odd ideas than others? A muslim? An arab or a Palestinian? 15 years old is old enough, in that benighted culture, to happily seek 72 virgins.

    CNN dutifully does not let us know this. Yet any thinking person should wonder…I can see the school going overboard, but the police? Surely the police wouldn’t call the Secret Service if they thought that there was no credible threat?

    Think about it.

  17. True, CNN cleverly failed to reveal the religio-ethnic affiliations of the young lad. Perhaps it would have clouded the issue? Readers are not qualified to sort out such details.
    And what of the boys who draw pictures of arab cities with mushroom clouds rising from them? What of those who draw military confrontations, with the arab would-be martyrs finally getting their wish? Some of those lads have been disciplined as well.
    It is so disturbing that societies conflicts are reflected in the minds and actions of its young. Shouldn’t young minds be pristine and innocent–isn’t that how children are born?
    Of course if that were true, evolution would have chewed homo sapiens to pieces and extincted humans a hundred thousand years ago.

  18. Questioneer says:

    If he had drawn Bush holding a sick with an Arab’s head on the end, he would probably have been suspended or at the least forced into some “sensitivity training”.

    Someone from the school called the Secret Service. They are required to investigate. They showed up at the school, looked at the drawing and said, “No threat here” then left.

    How does one propose to teach children that this is not appropriate behavior? Employers tend to frown on drawings like that. It appears to me that instead of incouraging kids to be productive members of society, we seem to be encouraging them to recklessly exercise every “right” they have, consequences be damned.

  19. Since when does the first amendment cover making threats towards people, particularly the President? Making threats is not free speech and has never been covered by the first amendment.

    As far as other people saying far worse things, I have heard many people state they don’t agree with the President or call the President names but I haven’t heard the threats.

    Of course, in today’s society, disagreeing with someone to some people now constitutes a threat.