Our freedom to speak and exchange ideas, especially unpopular ideas, is the most important right we hold as Americans. It is the first right because our founders knew that without it no other rights were possible.
Too many forces at work in our country believe limiting this right will make us safer. It will not.
However, no one has a right to incite violence, to threaten, assault, or to promote wicked acts while cloaking themselves in the protection of our Constitution.
I visited two places this past week that cannot escape my thoughts.
In the heart of Berlin — only a short walk from the Reich Chancellery where Adolf Hitler masterminded the atrocities of World War II — stand the 2,711 concrete blocks that comprise The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
In Amsterdam, adjacent to the Prinsengracht canal and the Renaissance-era Westerkerk church, is the building that houses the secret rooms where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis for two years before she was discovered and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to die.
These powerful spaces hold many lessons from a dark time in our history.
One seemingly obvious but nonetheless profound lesson that crystallized for me through these visits was the fact that few if any of the six million Jews that died during the Holocaust did so by Adolf Hitler’s own hand.
We rightfully demonize the man for his insidious acts, but none of his evil could have done anyone any harm without fertile ground to grow.
Acts of white supremacy by the KKK or by some domestic incarnate of Nazism are not quirky brands of minority beliefs that need protection. They are acts of violence that demand our unified condemnation.
We must deny these broken ideologies the foothold they need to spread. The consequences of failing in this task are not unknown or hard to visualize. There are memorials scattered across nearly every continent that tell the bloody story of humanity’s delay in taking action against them.
Joe Fain is a senator from the 47th Legislative District.