The European Court of Human Rights has defined a democratic society as one which exhibits tolerance, broad-mindedness and pluralism. Western democracies, however, are often Orwellian in their redefinition of these very terms, as exemplified in the recent Houston subpoena scandal.
Tolerance has come to mean disdain for social viewpoints which run contrary to the cultural orthodoxy of the day. Broad-mindedness means blindly accepting the overly permissive moral values of the Left. And, ironically, pluralism has taken on an identity which excludes dissenting voices.
Americans should take note that, in Europe, this new cultural identity has led to a democratic deficit and a “government knows best” attitude.
The story goes that Nicolas Sarkozy, when asked why he wouldn’t allow the French to vote on the Lisbon Treaty after the French public previously voted down the proposed European Constitution, said it was because the French would not get the answer right. This mentality is, of course, not unique to Europe. In states throughout America, a single judge has often been responsible for overturning the democratic will of millions of voters to constitutionally affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
In Houston, voters turned in more than three times the required number of signatures to have a controversial bill placed on the ballot, only to have city officials illegally throw them out and then go after the sermons, speeches, and private communications of pastors who opposed the bill—even though the pastors are not even party to a voter lawsuit over the disputed petitions.
The overwhelmingly Catholic nation of Slovakia, situated in the heart of Europe, is now also learning its own lesson that “Big Brother” knows best. The Alliance of Slovak Families, after successfully securing over 400,000 signatures (50,000 more signatures than required by the Slovak constitution) was constitutionally guaranteed a referendum on four proposed constitutional amendments concerning marriage, civil unions, adoption, and sex education. Even though the first three amendments merely affirm what is already part of Slovakia’s statutory law, and the fourth affirms what is well defined in European law to which Slovakia is bound, President Andrej Kiska (no relation) has nonetheless disrupted the process by filing a petition with Slovakia’s Constitutional Court on the basis that the four questions are “human rights” questions and therefore cannot be subject to referendum.
What makes Slovakia different from Croatia, another European Union nation which recently had its own popular referendum on the question of marriage? Or Slovenia, which recently had a referendum regarding its proposed family code on these very issues? Or Ireland, which in a few months time will have a referendum on the definition of marriage?
The answer is that it is not different. Polls suggest that a significant majority of Slovaks would vote affirmatively on all four issues. The only question is the same one Americans these days are asking: Is the democratic voice of the people subject to the discretion of political elites and unelected judges who choose not to respect their legally or constitutionally defined roles?
Europe is no stranger to elitisms that later manifest themselves as totalitarianism. The very purpose of the international declarations, conventions, and treaties that have bound European governments since World War II is the acknowledgment that it is not the role of the elites to define the rights of the people.
Slovakia, formerly part of an iron-curtain country, may soon find itself struggling to establish democracy once again. It would be a shame if America did, too.Roger Kiska is senior legal counsel at the Vienna, Austria, office of Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that defends religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.