John Kerry Is Wrong About The “Right To Be Stupid”
John Kerry tried to explain why Nazis in America can march openly as oppose to Germany where they are banned. He failed. Miserably.
Kerry vigorously defended Americans’ “right to be stupid” in a speech to German students during his first overseas trip as secretary of State.
“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, according to Reuters. “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.
“The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In American you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be.”
If I were a glass half full kind of guy, I’d be thankful that he at least recognizes some limits on the government. But I’m not. Starting assumptions matter because where you begin influences where you wind up. Kerry starts in the wrong place.
Our First Amendment rights are not a grant of “tolerance” by the government (which might be withdrawn). They are a recognition that we have these rights by our existence. The First Amendment is a control on government; it says what Congress may not do. We believe in that as a people our rights exists independent of the state and it is not up to the state to “tolerate” our expressions but to stay the hell away from them.
I understand that it’s popular for an elected official to run down noxious groups like Nazis but a Secretary of State speaking to a foreign audience should not be rendering qualitative judgment on any form speech. He should be explaining that government in the United States is limited in its powers by the people and that in America the people are the ones who “tolerate” the government.
Sadly that’s likely a bridge too far for Kerry.