Thursday, August 14, 2008

English Only: a foreign language ban?

Putting aside for a moment the various other reasons that English Only has been publicly opposed by one crucial question is, does the proposal itself amount to a foreign language ban? In other words, could Metro still choose to communicate in other languages when federal or state law does not require?

Metro Nashville government has multilingual communication strategies in a variety of areas, including the following, and it is important to know to what extent, if any, communications related to these topics are in jeopardy:
  • legal rights
  • a child's first day of school
  • domestic violence
  • recycling
  • rape victim resources
  • financial counseling
  • Homework Hotline
  • recidivism-reducing DUI education
  • pet ownership tips
  • access to health care, and
  • tornado siren instructions
The English Only proposal's sponsor says they're safe. In today's Nashville City Paper (here), the Councilman who is pushing English Only (and calling it English First) is saying that city agencies will still be able to choose to communicate in other languages, even if federal or state law doesn't require them to:
The second-term Councilman also said he’s frustrated with the misconception that the proposed charter amendment would forbid Metro from offering services in other languages.

“Clearly there’s a difference between somebody having a right and the city choosing to provide it if they want to help.”
The text of the proposed city charter amendment (akin to a federal constitutional amendment, but only for Nashville) is what the city would have to abide by if it passes. The answer to the language ban question, therefore, has to be found in the amendment itself, here:
English is the official language of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. Official actions (those which bind or commit the government) shall be taken only in the English language, and all official government communications and publications shall be published only in English. No person shall have a right to government services in any other language. All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the Metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English. Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.
I'd be interested to hear how readers interpret the language above. Can Metro still communicate in foreign languages by choice if we insert this clause into our city's legal DNA?

Photo by Tim O'Brien. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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