Welcome to Big Brother’s America. According to Judicial Watch, the Department of Justice, acting for the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is “threatening litigation and criminal prosecution” if a novelty store owner does not “Immediately remove” mugs and t-shirts that are emblazoned with phrases such as “Department of Homeland Stupidity” and “The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens.”
The store owner, Dan McCall, is selling items that can be found online at Zazzle.com. Zazzle received “cease and desist” letters from the NSA and DHS which asserted that although the products were parodies, they violated laws that guard the seals of the agencies.
Zazzle removed the products from its website, but McCall has filed a federal complaint against the DHS and NSA, claiming that his First Amendment rights are being violated.
McCall’s complaint reads:
This is an action for a judgment rejecting claims made in cease and desist letters that two government agencies sent to an online vendor of T-shirts, mugs and similar merchandise.
a) Contrary to the agencies’ claims, images created by a parodist to comment on the agencies by juxtaposing their names and official seals, or altered versions of their seals, with humorous and satirical words and images, do not violate federal statutes barring use of the agencies’ names and seals, as those statutes are construed to avoid conflict with the First Amendment.
(b) If the statutes are not construed narrowly to permit such use of the agencies’ names and seals, application of those statutes to bar the speech violates the First Amendment.