By Vincent Maresca
In light of upcoming elections across Europe, debates and discussions revolve around the future of the European Union as well as the refugee crisis. However, beyond these issues, there is discussion of the possibility that the citizens of major European democracies are gradually losing their liberties. Therefore, is there such a perpetual loss of basic freedoms? Several news reports from countries such as in France, Germany and Belgium offer examples and even suggest elements reminiscent of a dictatorship such as lack of freedom of expression, storm troopers, and an extreme secularization of society.
First, freedom of speech is under attack. In France, there is current legislation cracking down on alleged “fake news.” On February 16, Claude Bartone, President of the French National Assembly, issued controversial legislation that prohibits anyone spreading misleading online information about the termination of a pregnancy. It is punishable by up to two years of imprisonment and a fine of €30,000. Although Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for women’s rights, stated that advocates are free to voice their opposition against abortion, the law limits the right of dissent and free speech under the guise of tackling false information. Furthermore, according to Jeanne Smits, the Paris correspondent for Lifesite News, the law has no clear definition on “who has authority to judge whether information is officially ‘misleading,'” which leaves it open to interpretation by judges as well as health and government officials.
Second, the right to education is at risk in Germany. Parents are not free to provide their children a school of their choosing, potentially preventing the best education possible. As the Daily Mail reported, since 1918, homeschooling in Germany is illegal, and compulsory education is mandatory for children. One such example involved the alleged persecution of homeschoolers Uwe and Hanalore Romeike, who fled Germany in 2008 and settled in Tennessee where they homeschooled their seven children. According to BBC News, the family faced deportation after both an appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court denied their asylum case in 2014. However, shortly after the Supreme Court decision, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted the Romeikes “deferred action status” and continue to educate their children without any interference. As the Homeschooling League Defense Association reported on operations carried out by social workers and special agents who raided on another homeschooling family and removed the children. Therefore, the issue is more than just the freedom of education or the freedom of movement. Is there protection against unwarranted searches and seizures?
Finally, the basic freedom of religion is being antagonized. According to USA Today, on March 14, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers could ban their employees from wearing religious symbols at the workplace. The Court of Justice’s decision received backlash from human rights groups and religious communities. John Dalhuisen, a director of Amnesty International, called it “an open door to prejudice.” Reuters reported that Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, leader of the Jewish Rabbis in Europe, stated that the ruling would also apply to other religions and not just Islam. Although two Muslim women brought their case before the highest court after they were forbidden from wearing headscarves at work, the ruling applied to Muslims as well as Jews and Christians.
Thus, by denying basic individual freedoms in areas such as speech, education, and religion, Europe is slouching toward a system where other issues take priority over clear human rights norms. If European countries continue along this path, then a re-emergence of dictatorial powers will occur.