Freedom of speech is under fire in Europe; Americans must be always vigilant in protecting this right.

Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament since 1998 and head of the Party for Freedom (PPV), came to the United States recently for a speaking tour and to do research on the First Amendment to our Constitution.

He hopes to develop and promote a European First Amendment similar to our own, which protects the freedoms of speech, the press, religion and peaceful assembly. His case is a prime example of the disappearance of these rights throughout much of Europe.

Once invited to speak and show a short film before the House of Lords in the English Parliament, a separate branch of that government ordered his arrest when his plane landed. Despite being invited by two members of the English government, Wilders, an official of the Dutch government, was charged with “threaten(ing) community harmony and therefore public security”. He was held in airport detention and deported three hours later.

Everywhere terms like “fairness,” “prejudice,” “profiling,” or “racism” are being applied to stifle dissent and maintain something called “political correctness.” This is what the writers of the Bill of Rights of the United States sought to avoid.

Recently, American politicians have attempted to re-institute the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” for newspapers, radio, television and the Internet. This abominable idea has existed since 1949 and appears regularly. The government would determine “balanced programming” for the press or individual broadcasters.

In other words, a government in power would determine what is fair or unfair criticism of that government and, in this manner, what an individual would be permitted to hear or write.

With such a watchdog regime, freedom of opinion would cease to exist.

In Syria, for example, the leader relies on “The Committee for the Enlightenment of the Masses” to approve or disapprove news or publication. Since 2007, the Telecommunications Directorate of Turkey has blocked access to 1,631 Internet sites. The usual claim is these sites were involved in “obscenity” or “child pornography”. Only a careful reading of the small print discloses many sites were closed for “crimes against Ataturk” – criticism of the government.

The concept of limiting free speech is endemic throughout Europe and is taking strong legal form. The Italian author and journalist Oriana Fallaci, who died in Florence in 2006, had been convicted in absentia in Switzerland for writing material critical of Islam. She was an Italian citizen, living and writing in Italy. The matter in question was highly inflammatory, but just words and opinion. Following the issuance of a European Arrest Warrant, she could have been arrested in any country of the European Union for expressing an opinion that was not a crime in her own country. Her death made the matter moot.

A famous American jurist once set the limit of free speech just short of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Current politics seem to set the bar much, much lower.

Since we live in a complex republic with complicated government operations, we regularly and necessarily delegate power to elected and paid officials. Nevertheless, the citizen must pay attention to what is happening, because the citizen must supervise the work. Government officials are employees, not rulers. Being a responsible citizen requires diligence and attention to detail. Freedom of speech permits the exchange of ideas this requires.

The nightmarish aspects of societies such as those described by authors George Orwell in ‘1984’, Aldous Huxley in ‘Brave New World’ and Ray Bradbury in ‘Fahrenheit 451″ are within easy reach of Americans today. Only inattention is required for us to lose our rights.

Citizens of this most unique country in the history of the world must be responsible in the maintenance of what we value. There are numerous attempts that have been made by groups and officials seeking to gain control throughout our history. So far, these have failed.

This is what Geert Wilders came from the Netherlands to study, because these values are fading away in Europe.

G. Ernest Lynch is a retired history teacher from SAD 9 in Farmington. He lives in Temple.

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