A Washington, D.C.-based group that believes English should be the official language of the United States has launched a new drive to force Congress to pass a bill making English America’s “common language.”
The group, U.S. English, says efforts by federal and state governments to make various forms multilingual is not only unnecessary in a nation that has spoken English throughout its history, but such requirements are a drain on the economy, costing taxpayers needless millions of extra dollars in printing and production costs.
Also, according to the group’s president, Mauro E. Mujica – who immigrated to the U.S. from Chile in 1965 – multilingualism “totally undermines one of the fundamental things that for more than 200 years has helped keep our diverse nation … together and unified: a common language.”
“A while ago, being an American meant speaking English,” he added.
The House in 1996 passed an English-only bill that would have mandated all federal and state government agencies to operate using only the English language. But the bill died after the Senate failed to take it up.
According to information on its website, U.S. English bills itself as a non-partisan, not-for-profit foundation that disseminates information on English teaching methods, sponsors educational programs, develops English instructional materials, represents the interests of “Official English” advocates before state and federal courts, and promotes opportunities for people living in the United States to learn English.
According to the group’s literature, “at every level – local, state and federal – our government is encouraging, promoting and using foreign languages instead of English.”
Tax forms, voter ballots, driver license exams, welfare services, Social Security documents, public school programs, voter registration drives and even citizenship ceremonies “have all been provided in foreign languages,” the group said.
Such practices “encourage newcomers to America to continue using their native languages here in the U.S.,” said Mujica.
But not everyone agrees with Mujica’s point of view.
The America Civil Liberties Union says in a position paper dealing with “English-only” laws that “from its inception, the United States has been a multilingual nation.”
“At the time of the nation’s founding, it was commonplace to hear as many as 20 languages spoken in daily life, including Dutch, French, German and numerous Native American languages. Even the Articles of Confederation were printed in German, as well as English,” the ACLU paper says.
“The ACLU opposes ‘English Only’ laws because they can abridge the rights of individuals who are not proficient in English, and because they perpetuate false stereotypes of immigrants and non-English speakers,” the civil rights group said.
Most teachers’ groups, such as the National Education Association, also support the use of other languages in school.
U.S. English, however, claims that 81 percent of Americans don’t want a multilingual America.
“… On the contrary, preserving our nation’s unity by reversing our government’s multilingual policies and passing our ‘Official English Language Bill’ into law are top priorities of the American people,” said the group’s literature.
“One of America’s greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, once stated, ‘The one absolute certain way of bring this nation to ruin … would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities,'” said the group’s literature.
The “English-only” movement may be gaining momentum in the courts as well.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that individuals cannot sue states for certain English-only policies – a decision analysts believe is likely to affect claims of discrimination in arenas from college admissions testing to environmental protection, USA Today reported.
Since 1983, U.S. English says it has helped 26 states “codify” English as their official language. Also, the group says it has “found and won countless court battles against anti-English forces who want to repeal official English state laws.”
“We all may be from some different place,” Mujica said. “But when we come here, we are all Americans.”