The Department of Justice is threatening criminal prosecution against a popular online novelty store for selling such items as “Department of Homeland Stupidity” T-shirts and “NSA: The only part of government that actually listens” coffee mugs.
Dan McCall, who owns and operates the novelty company Zazzle.com, received “cease and desist” letters from Homeland Security and National Security Agency officials advising him that his products violate statutes that protect their official seals from misuse, according to CNS News.
The “Department of Homeland Stupidity” seal depicts an eagle wearing a dunce cap and clutching a liquor bottle in one foot and a marijuana plant in the other.
The Justice Department threatened civil and criminal action if the items weren’t immediately removed from the Zazzle product line.
McCall removed the items and filed a lawsuit of his own through the government watchdog group, Judicial Watch, naming both agencies as defendants on freedom of speech grounds.
As for the agencies’ claims, Judicial Watch said:
In a federal complaint filed this week … McCall says his images make fair use of the NSA and DHS seals to “identify federal government agencies as the subject of criticism.” Therefore it’s unconstitutional for the government to forbid him from displaying and selling his parodies to “customers who want to display the items to express their own criticism of NSA and DHS,” according to his complaint.
Furthermore, McCall is not mutilating or altering the agency seals, but rather using them in a parodic form that doesn’t create any likelihood of confusion about the source or sponsorship of the material. No reasonable viewer is likely to believe that any of the materials is affiliated with or sponsored by the DHS or the NSA, the complaint says. “Nor were the seals affixed to the items to be sold with any fraudulent intent.”
“The two agencies at the center of this brouhaha most certainly have bigger fish to fry,” a Judicial Watch official told CNS News. “So does the Department of Justice, the agency that has threatened to prosecute the mug and T-shirt creator.”
President Obama has a well-known and much-deserved reputation for being thin-skinned. That tendency seems to be spreading throughout his administration.