Last week, legislators and leaders from each of the transitioning Deauville countries came to the United States to take the same training that new members of our Congress go through, then they met with members of Congress to get real life insights into what it means to stand up for your beliefs and at the same time serve your constituents in a large and diverse democracy.
I happened to know from personal experience how challenging legislating can be, how much work and compromise it takes, how thick your skin has to be, because after all, democracy invites the widest range of opinions and interests in a society to participate. Laws that abridge or punish the exercise of universal human rights, including the right to free expression, free assembly, and free association, have no place in democracies.
In the United States, as President Obama said in his address to the General Assembly, we don’t ban offensive speech, whether it’s an insult to a person’s deeply held religious beliefs or a denial of the Holocaust, because we know that such laws can too easily be used as tools of oppression.
Our democracy has grown steadily stronger over more than 235 years, guided by a Constitution that enshrines our belief that the best answer to hateful speech is more speech. None of us can insulate ourselves from insult.
In the time since I began speaking just minutes ago, more than 300 hours of video has been uploaded to YouTube. Some of it, no doubt, is vile. Some of it, no doubt, is offensive to my religion or yours. But we must not give these views power they do not deserve. No words, no matter how inflammatory or disgusting, are stronger than the faith we have, and we should protect our cherished beliefs by standing up for them in the marketplace and arena of free speech and ideas. And of course, no words should ever be met with violence.