While discussing freedom of speech and freedom of religion with a group of German students last week, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry told them "Americans have the right to be stupid."
Kerry came under fire, particularly among political conservatives, for misrepresenting Americans and American liberties abroad. The quote was part of his explanation of how distasteful and offensive points of view can be tolerated as free speech in the U.S. (He mentioned provocative, insulting signs… wonder who that could be?)
Still, the idea of referring to the First Amendment as the "right to be stupid" struck many the wrong way, seen reflective of a government ever closer to reducing freedom of speech and freedom of religion, both sacred tenants of American culture and thought.
His comments—and the headlines they spurred—are especially troubling when you consider that much of the world does not share in our freedom of speech or freedom of religion, and may never have the right to criticize their government or enjoy the First Amendment liberties we celebrate.
As a female American expatriate currently living in Cairo, I know firsthand how other countries across the globe—from the Egypt to China—remain embattled in freedom of speech and freedom of religion struggles of their own. The right to be "stupid" and the right to speak out and to worship freely are clearly very different to someone longing after the latter.
It was hard to hear Kerry's statement from the context of the Middle East, where in many places it is a crime to openly talk about Christ or convert anyone to Christianity. Christians have been denied voting rights in previous elections; ...1
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