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As Long as We Remember...

February 9, 2012

English Officially? The Debate Begins Anew

Blaine R. Young

We have heard a lot of discussion, and I am sure we will hear more, about a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to establish English as the official language for Frederick County. The Board of County Commissioners will conduct this hearing on February 21 at Winchester Hall.


There is some history to this. During the prior commissioners’ board, Commissioner Charles Jenkins made a similar proposal. He had only one other commissioner support his proposition, John L. ‘Lennie’ Thompson. The ordinance was not passed. Instead, a watered down “resolution” was approved, which fell far short of what has been done in many other states.


The current board wants to correct that error. It is very interesting to know that as of today 31 of the 50 states have laws on the books establishing English as the official language of their state. The fact that Maryland is not one of these 31 should be a surprise to no one.


But you might be surprised to learn that very liberal states such as California, Massachusetts, and even Hawaii, have either legislation or constitutional provisions which establish English as the official language of the state.


Currently, there are bills in Congress which would make English our nation’s official language. Sen. James Inhofe (R., OK) has introduced the “English Language Unity Act” (S. 503). And there are two similar bills in the House of Representatives – Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King’s bill H.R. 997, and New York Republican Rep. Peter King’s bill H.R. 1164.


A nation declaring English to be their official language is not unheard of. There are 54 countries around the world that have already made English their official language.


And it is also important to understand that an ordinance establishing English as the official language of Frederick County does not mean “English only.” The ordinance would not prohibit the county from publishing advisories – or otherwise using other languages – when there is a compelling public need to do so. For example, in the event it would be necessary for the protection of public health and safety, assuring equality before the law, promoting tourism, teaching foreign languages, law enforcement, and other legitimate common sense situations, the government would be free to utilize other languages.


The ordinance simply would provide that English being our official language, that for the government to act officially, it must communicate in English. The formal and official language of record is the English language and no one would have the right to demand government services in any other language, unless it met the public need described above.


An ordinance establishing English formally as the official language of Frederick County would also reinforce the idea that immigrants who come here lawfully and abide by our local, state and federal laws are welcome, and that to assimilate they should learn English. Whatever happened to the “melting pot?”


You might want to keep an eye on this debate as I am sure it will be interesting as time goes on. But this is not intended to be divisive or controversial. It is merely meant to recognize our long and shared history in this country, and honor those who came before us.


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