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John Kerry To German Students: Americans Have 'Right To Be Stupid'

Posted: February 26, 2013

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On his first foreign trip as Secretary of State, Kerry defended America's tradition of civil liberties. He said our tolerance for the airing of controversial opinions is a virtue.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Sean Gallup

In his first foreign trip as Secretary of State, John Kerry defended America's civil liberties during his talk with German students.

Kerry said that the United States' tradition of freedom of speech — even if it includes offensive speech — is a virtue.

He said, according to Reuters:

"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.

"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 America you have a right to be stupid — if you want to be. 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."

The "stupid" line, by the way, received a round of laughs.

If you remember, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to defend the First Amendment after a U.S.-produced film depicting the Prophet Muhammad inflamed the Arab world.

"I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day," she said. "In today's world with today's technologies, that is impossible. But even if it was possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our constitution and our law.

"And we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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