A movement to make English the official language in all government documents and public discourse is gaining steam, with 32 states having adopted legislation or a constitutional amendment.
Michigan is the latest to introduce legislation, says a non-profit helping lead the charge, ProEnglish.
HB 4053, which has been approved by a state House committee, would require that English be the language used in all public records, although a state agency or local unit of government could print official documents in both English and another language.
Michigan state Rep. Lee Chatfield, a Republican, explained why he’s behind the bill.
“I think it’s important that we attempt to be unified in this state. It simply puts into legislation something that’s already a reality in the state,” he said.
ProEnglish says its mission is to work through the courts and in the court of public opinion “to defend English’s historic role as America’s common, unifying language, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.”
The organization said the Michigan bill has a chance for passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives this year.
In Georgia, which already has an English-only statute, state Sen. Josh McKoon will again introduce a constitutional amendment to provide “that official state actions be in English” and to bar “any language other than English be used in any documents, regulations, orders, transactions, proceedings, meetings, programs or publications.”
The Georgia amendment also will “prohibit discrimination, penalties or other limits on participation against persons who speak only English.”
The amendment passed the Georgia state Senate in March of 2016 by a two-thirds vote but later stalled in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Federal legislation, proposed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the English Language Unity Act of 2017, requires all official functions of the United States to be conducted in English and the establishment of a uniform language requirement for naturalization.
ProEnglish reasons that in “a pluralistic nation such as ours, the function of government should be to foster and support the similarities that unite us, rather than institutionalize the differences that divide us.”
“Our nation’s public schools have the clear responsibility to help students who don’t know English to learn that language as quickly as possible,” the group says. “To do otherwise is to sentence the child to a lifetime of political and economic isolation. Quality teaching of English and America’s civic culture should be a part of every student’s curriculum. The study of foreign languages, as an academic discipline, should be strongly encouraged.”
Among the objectives of ProEnglish are “to end bilingual education in favor of English language immersion programs in public schools and to repeal federal mandates for the translation of government documents and voting ballots into languages other than English.”
Opponents of English-only laws in government, such as the ACLU, contend the laws are inconsistent with the First Amendment rights to petition the government and to free speech and the right to equality, because they bar government employees from providing non-English language assistance and services.
Just before leaving office, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in August 2000 titled “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.” The order required federal agencies “to examine the services they provide, identify any need for services to those with limited English proficiency (LEP), and develop and implement a system to provide those services so LEP persons can have meaningful access to them.”
States that have English-only laws are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.