Kerry defends Americans' 'right to be stupid' in speech to students in Germany

John KerryJohn Kerry9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction Australia's duty to the world: Stop mining coal Overnight Energy & Environment — Effort to repeal Arctic refuge drilling advances MORE 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.”


Kerry was referring to a Supreme Court decision that allowed Nazi demonstrations in public. Such marches are outlawed in Germany, where even the Nazi salute and symbols remain illegal almost 70 years after the end of World War II.

His broader point comes just months after an anti-Islam video made in the United States sparked outrage and demonstrations across the Muslim world. The movie sparked efforts at the United Nations to criminalize blasphemy.

Many Muslims find it inconceivable that President Obama — the most powerful man in the world — wouldn't be able to ban such a video. In America, by contrast, the U.S. embassy's effort to distance itself from the movie outraged some conservatives who said the administration should stand up for free speech, however offensive, when it's under attack.

“We tolerate it. We somehow make it through that,” Kerry said. “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."

Berlin is the second stop on Kerry's itinerary following his meeting Monday with Prime Minister David Cameron. He was scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later in the day before going on to Paris.