One of the most bizarre aspects of being an American in Western Europe — at least if you're an American who has opinions and is used to expressing them freely — is getting accustomed to the fact that there's no First Amendment over here. Some of us grew up thinking of Western Europe as part of the "Free World." But how free is a country if it doesn't recognize freedom of speech as a fundamental right?
I'm old enough to remember the landmark case in the late 1970s when a group of Nazis wanted to hold a march in the largely Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie. The story made headlines nationwide and sparked intense debate. The ACLU took the case; the Supreme Court ruled for the Nazis. But it was not a victory for Nazism — it was a victory for the Constitution. It affirmed that the First Amendment really means what it says, and that the United States really is the land of the free.
I grew up hearing many Americans speak of Western Europe as if its values were somehow superior to our own. After I began traveling to Europe and then — as a European resident — began traveling extensively around Europe, I came to love many things about the old continent. But not even in my most Europhile moments did I believe that it would be a good deal to trade in the Bill of Rights for its European equivalents.