During his address to German students yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry offered a defense of freedom of speech and religion by saying that in the United States “you have a right to be stupid if you want to be.”
“As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view,” Kerry told the students in Berlin, the second stop on his inaugural trip as secretary of state.
“People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another,” he added.
“The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be,” he said, prompting laughter. “And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be.
“And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that. Now, I think that’s a virtue. I think that’s something worth fighting for,” he added. “The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view.”
No one familiar with John Kerry’s career should be surprised that he is snootily dismissive of Americans who hold views different from his own. And perhaps we should be grateful that a man who could have been president of the United States believes in “tolerating” those of us who stupidly oppose infringements on our religious liberties.
Still, as Ken Blackwell says, instead of talking of “tolerance” and how we “tolerate” ideas we think are stupid, Kerry might have told the young Germans about George Washington’s eloquent Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport.
In 1790, President Washington told those Jewish Americans-who had so loyally supported our country’s bid for independence and freedom:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
As Blackwell adds, “Let us note well: President Washington says we do not speak of toleration. That’s because he understood that religious freedom is not the gift of the government, of the governing elites, or even of the majority of voters. Religious freedom is the gift of God. It is the foundation of our inalienable right to liberty.”
It’s a shame Secretary Kerry doesn’t agree with Washington, but as he reminds us we should be tolerant and remember that every American has a “right to be stupid.”