Wednesday, February 7, 2007

"English Forced" ordinance passes

Council adopts another ban aimed at internationals

Multilingual communications allowed only when federal law or health/safety/welfare require

Limits Metro government, or does nothing?

Legal challenges could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands

Nashville's friendly, welcoming reputation in play

Non-governmental speech remains unregulated for now

Required by federal law, health, safety, or welfare?

The Tennessean and the City Paper report that the Metro Council passed the controversial language ban ordinance on third and final reading last night, requiring Metro communications to be in English except where federal law or health, safety, or the public welfare require. Its sponsor originally dubbed it "English Only," then "English First" after the exceptions were drafted. He also claimed that one of his reasons for the bill (among many) was to help speakers of other languages to learn English by forcing them to use it when interacting with government. It is unclear whether any immigrant-familiar organizations supported the ordinance, but supporters of the ordinance cited what they deemed to be overwhelming enthusiasm from the general public. A coalition of coalitions called NashvilleForAll, which includes the Hispanic Nashville Notebook, opposed the ordinance.

Gregg Ramos, one of the leaders of NashvilleForAll, told the Tennessean that the federal law/health/safety/welfare exception "probably swallows the rule," but that local government "department heads will probably be reluctant to do anything in a language other than English until there's a legal challenge."

Late yesterday, before passage, the Tennessean reported here that the Metro law department had evaluated the ordinance as a potential First Amendment target that could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and thousands of hours of city employee time.

As to whether the ordinance makes the city less welcome, both sides claimed a desire to maintain Nashville's reputation as one of the nation's friendliest cities. The city's welcomers (among whom are the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Convention & Visitors Bureau, who seek to attract permanent and occasional newcomers) can point to the Council's pro-English resolution in January that had favorable wording regarding speakers of other languages. (See NashvilleForAll). But if outsiders pay less attention to the January resolution and more attention to the Council's many recent bans aimed at internationals, of which the language ban is only the latest, our city's favorable reputation may be at risk.

The good news is that the ordinance does not purport to regulate the behavior of anyone other than local government departments and employees. Accordingly, WELCOME and BIENVENIDOS to the readers and residents of Hispanic Nashville. May you find on these pages countless examples of Nashvillians who respect you, value you, and humbly reach out to you in friendship - in any language.

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