Editors Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison
Secretary of State John Kerry was barely off the plane in Germany before he embarrassed himself—and all of us—with what is perhaps the worst defense of religious freedom ever offered. Kerry, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for president in 2004, said the United States protects religious freedom because: “In America , you have a right to be stupid.”
Sec. Kerry’s audience of German students laughed when he said that. He missed, of course, the perfect opportunity to share our deepest values with the rising generation that will have Europe ’s future in their hands.
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.
This was a world historical event. It was the first time in history that any national leader addressed the Jews as equal fellow citizens. Wouldn’t Germany —with its tragic history—have been an excellent place to reiterate President Washington’s deep beliefs?
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.
Kerry could have quoted this eloquent Washington passage: