Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nashville's English-Only Charter Amendment ...

is unnecessary, legally irresponsible, and bad public policy.

By Nathan Moore

The “English only” charter amendment is bad, not because the Metropolitan government doesn't need to be speaking in English (it already is), but because it is completely unnecessary. The primary advocates, many of whom I have known for years, are pursuing bad government policy with reckless abandon and it is shameful. The call for a special election, which would cost the taxpayers somewhere in the ballpark of $350,000 for an unnecessary, legally irresponsible amendment, is absurd. The money Metro would be spending could just as well go to more accessible English as a second language classes, which would go further toward solving the perceived linguistic problems of our city than this silly amendment.

As Davidson County Republican Party chairman Tom Lawless noted in The Tennessean today, “What is the great immediacy of this?”. He is certainly right - there is no immediacy, especially not in the case of this poorly contrived law.

I tend to look for the best in people, and will give most the benefit of many doubts, but I truly cannot figure out what positive is being accomplished with this amendment. The state of the law will not change. The only outcome will be that costs to Metro will go up in the form of litigation from certain constitutional challenges.

There is no language crisis in our city. Immigrants are not “holding out” on us, refusing to speak in anything but their native tongues. No one comes to America (and more specifically, Nashville), not wanting to learn English. There is not some underground society on Nolensville Road that has pledged to speak Spanish or die.

But what does need to die is the English-Only charter amendment. It is giving conservatives in Metro an awful reputation, one that many of us do not deserve and strenuously resent. I strongly oppose the English-Only charter amendment and urge its backers to rethink their reasons for supporting it. Surely we can focus on something that would actually make Metro better, leaving the coarsely developed aura of this irrational xenophobia in the gutter where it truly belongs.

Nathan Moore is a Nashville attorney, conservative activist, former Davidson County Young Republican Chairman and blogs at MoreThoughs. I had the pleasure of hearing him debate the proposed Nashville English-only charter amendment that is on the ballot to be decided January 22. Nathan debated Councilman Eric Crafton, the author of the bill, at today’s First Tuesday Group, a monthly Republican gathering. I concur with the arguments made by Nathan and the opponents of the bill.

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  1. Great post. Such laws are extraordinarily difficult to enforce - someone's grandmother in their eighties often has great difficulty learning a new language.

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  3. Most of these English-only laws seem to be found in areas with large concentrations of immigrants. That hardly seems like Nashville, or am I wrong? Also, my understanding was that places like California where there are many immigrants,proposed such laws to alleviate the need to print ballots in multiple languages--not to force people to speak English in conversation. Am I wrong here too?

  4. Patricia,
    Nashville is quite racial and ethnically diverse and in fact Nashville has one of the fastest growing foreign-born populations of any major US city. This was not always the case but in about the last 15 years Nashville began becoming more diverse and our diversity has accelerated. Nashville has a population of about 550,000 people and about 28% are Black and almost 7% are Hispanic. Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in North America and Kurds number about 10,000. We also have a sizeable number of Somalis and Laotians and smaller numbers of many other ethnic groups.

    If the English only bill were to pass, it would not prohibit people from speaking their Native language but would restrict Nashville's ability to translate documents into other languages or hire interpreters. No one is sure exactly what the impact would be. The police have recruited Spanish-speaking officers. Would the police be prohibited form speaking Spanish to Spanish-speaking people? We don’t know. Things such as signs in foreign languages at the airport or books in Spanish at the library or the use of Spanish speaking health inspectors and codes inspectors or brochures in Spanish might be prohibited if the charter amendment passes. Most cities that have passed English-only laws are really small towns. It this passes in Nashville, we would be the largest city by far to pass such a law. Almost all of Nashville’s leadership including university presidents, Chamber of Commerce, our daily newspaper, religious leaders, labor groups, and many others have publicly taken positions against the bill but it appears to have a lot grassroots support.

  5. Well said. This thing is ridiculous.

    My great-grandfather was an Italian immigrant, and owned a home and business in Philadelphia without reading or writing English. It was possible in the 1910's, because owning a home and a business didn't require the kinds of forms and bureaucratic red tape it does today. Nashville and other cities should be looking at reducing the amount of government interaction they require from law-abiding citizens, not forcing those interactions to happen only in one language.