The U.S. National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security suffered a legal defeat Tuesday as a feisty T-shirt designer reaffirmed the right to ridicule these large and powerful federal agencies. The issue concerns satire, free speech, and the process of democracy.
Shirts designed by Dan McCall poke fun at the NSA as "the only part of the government that actually listens." After the NSA's alleged overzealous monitoring of millions of people, many Americans find that satiric message very funny.
Another shirt spoofs the Department of Homeland Security logo as the "Department of Homeland Stupidity." Not as funny, but just as critical.
The agencies were not amused and had threatened legal action against the printer who made and distributed McCall's satiric T-shirts.
McCall said the threats violated the constitutional guarantee of free speech.
On Tuesday, the government agencies agreed to end their legal threats and pay McCall $500 to cover his legal expenses. He spoke to VOA via Skype.
"I think it's important to keep your sense of humor about yourself, as a nation, as a person, as individuals," said McCall.
Attorney Paul Levy of the activist group Public Citizen helped McCall. He says the case is about satire and free speech, elements that are critical for democracy.
"Sometimes talking about your government with a sense of humor is the best way to capture people's imagination and move them to take action. We can't be serious all the time," said Levy.
Dan McCall plans to make and sell more T-shirts.
The Department of Homeland Security declined comment.