A FEDERAL JUDGE in New York has upheld the right of the government to deny visas to hundreds of aliens who wish to attend a U.N. conference on disarmament in New York this month. The applicants, most of them Japanese, are affiliated with an organization called Gensuikyo, which in turn is a member of the World Peace Council, an organization with strong affiliation to the Soviet Communist Party. Under a 30-year-old law, persons affiliated with such organizations can be denied visas. The question is whether this should be done.

In recent years, persons with communist affiliations who have applied for visas to come to the United States have, almost routinely, been granted waivers by the attorney general and allowed to enter. Out of thousands of such applications, only 10 to 20 a year are turned down. This case is unique not only because of the large number of applicants involved--315 have been denied entry in a single proceeding--but also because it apparently signals a tough new stand on the part of the administration and may foreshadow the denial of more visas on a routine basis in the future. In refusing to grant waivers in this case, the government at no time alleged that the applicants were intent on violence, or that they were spies or dangerous in any way. It was sufficient that they belonged to the suspect group. Because of this affiliation alone, they have been denied permission to enter the country for a short period of time to attend a U.N.-sponsored event and to participate in activities in connection with that meeting.

While we have the right as a nation to protect ourselves against those who would come here for violent and illegal purposes, we also have a right to listen to a wide range of political views, even those with which we disagree strongly. It is the act of a politically secure people to tolerate the free expression of views. Just as few Americans would have been persuaded by the rantings of the Rev. Ian Paisley had he been granted a visa earlier this year, it is hard to believe that we could not survive the month-long visit of a couple of hundred Japanese leftists. European disarmament advocates of all political persuasions have had access to American homes in recent days via the nightly television news. President Reagan has suggested that Soviet President Brezhnev himself address our countrymen on national television. Even if the government's worst fears about these applicants are true, surely we should be able to withstand for a short time the propaganda efforts of these obscure Japanese communists. Let them come.