NEW YORK — Three Secret Service agents detained andquestioned the managing editor of a student paper Wednesdayabout a column he wrote that appeared in the paper asking Godto "smite" President Bush.
The column was published in the Feb. 7 issue of the StonyBrook Press, a satirical campus newspaper at the State Universityof New York at Stony Brook.
In his column, which he said was meant as a parody, Glenn Givensaid if God was busy he should get a different deity or "somecrazy mortal" to do the job for him.
According to Given, the agents said they feared the articlemight be interpreted by some as a divine call to harm the president.A faculty member who became concerned after reading the columncalled the Secret Service.
However, Given said his column was an attempt to express hisfrustration with the president and was not intended to be takenliterally.
"The intent of the editorial was absurdist satire,"Given said. "This paper has a really strong history of beingsatirical … and I wanted to keep with that tradition but inno way did we actually want someone to go and kill the president."
According to federal law, it is against the law to "knowinglyand willfully" threaten the president.
The Supreme Court distinguished between a threat and protectedspeech in 1969 when it ruled in Watts v. U.S.that political hyperbole does not pose a legitimate threatto the president’s safety.
Given said he was waiting for a friend in the Stony BookPress newsroom when three agents arrived unannounced and askedto speak with the paper’s editorial board.
"I asked them if they were here because of the columnI’d written, and they said that they were so I told them I wasresponsible for it," Given said. "They refused to letour photo editor, who was in the newsroom with me when they arrived,come along as a witness, and then they took me upstairs for questioningfor several hours."
Given said the agents questioned him about his background andpersonal history, including questions about any history of violence,his psychiatric background, his family history and past drug use.
"After they questioned me they took me over to the policestation to have my picture taken and wait for a call from theirsupervisor," Given said. "They told me their supervisorwould decide whether or not they were going to take me home, althoughthe investigation would not necessarily end, or if they were goingto charge me."
Given said he gave the agents permission to release his medicalrecords and search his apartment.
"They looked around for any relevant information and thenthey told me I might still be charged if many more people calledand complained about the article," he said.
At the suggestion of the agents, Given said he decided to removethe remaining 100 copies of the newspaper from stands around theuniversity.
"They said they thought that was a good idea but saidI could still be charged" even after removing the papers,he said.
The Student Press Law Center and Reporters Committee for Freedomof the Press wrote a joint letter to the Secret Service on Thursday protestingagents’ "over-aggressive response" to Given’s columnand asking the Secret Service to issue a written apology to Givenand the Stony Brook Press.
A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service Field Office in Melville,N.Y. refused to comment on the incident.
A copy of Glenn Given’s article is available from the Reporters Committee, which also issued a press release about the incident.