United we stand

By Timothy Rollins
web posted September 4, 2000

Thanks to Bill Clinton and another one of his Executive Orders, this one being number 13166 which was issued in Los Angeles, he has now made the inability to speak English a protected civil right. With the stroke of a pen, Bill Clinton has made it the job of the government to make sure that it will get your welfare check, food stamps and any other government benefit that one may be entitled to, even if you cannot understand English.

All one would need to do is say "No habla Ingles" or the appropriate phrase in whatever else language they may speak, and the government will become obligated to accommodate you in the language you speak.

This disturbs me for a number of reasons. First of all, it may be unconstitutional, as it is in a sense, an end run around the Tenth Amendment regarding States' Rights and does not qualify as a protected right under the Fourteenth Amendment. Most states will not issue a driver's license to an applicant unless they have an understanding of the English language. This is because some of the road signs are not just symbols; they include messages in English that the driver must be able to understand if they are going to operate their vehicles in a safe and effective manner.

One other problem of the federal aspects of this Executive Order is that it will require the unnecessary expenditure of federal and state funds to accommodate people who are either unwilling, too lazy or too narrow-minded to adapt all existing programs to accommodate what this EO requires. Clearly, this is a case of providing special status to one group of people over another.

I do not have anything against those who speak non-English languages such as Spanish or other languages. As a matter of fact, I learned Spanish while living in the Los Angeles area 15 years ago, and used it frequently in my dealings with people, both at work and in my Church responsibilities. I enjoy Spanish a great deal, and although I have lost my ability to speak the language for the most part due to lack of use over the last several years, hearing Spanish still brings a smile to my face.

I can understand the intent of the administration from a standpoint of eliminating discrimination. I also remember Proposition 106, a ballot initiative in Arizona in 1988. It sought to make English the official language, following the lead of other states that had previously done so. This was part of a backlash that was occurring in the late 1980's and early 1990's. This Executive Order could restart the sentiment that was a part of that time.

What I do not understand, is that there are those who seek to forever isolate these people who do not speak English through the concept of bilingual education. Bilingual education only serves to isolate these children and keep them in the ranks of second-class citizens that do not speak passable English. Opportunities are limited if you do not speak the majority or dominant language, and bilingual education only serves to undermine the potential for a more productive and rewarding life.

Part of the beauty and appeal of this nation which has drawn so many to its shores over the past two centuries has been the common bond of people seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

A recent study by Stanford University has shown test scores going up for children in California for whom bilingual education had been discontinued. In comparing scores for children in English only schools and those of bilingual schools, the schools that taught English not only had better scores, but the children were picking up English at an impressive rate, thus improving their chances at success and achieving their version of the American Dream.

The inability to understand English is not a permanent condition. I grew up in a lot of places as my family moved frequently. I have lived in neighborhoods where Italian, German, Yugoslavian and French, as well as a host of other languages were spoken. Many of these people went to English classes to learn the language of their new home and country. They sought to have a common bond with their neighbors by being able to communicate with each other in a common language.

Another argument against being officially bilingual or multilingual would be the situation in Canada, and its ongoing problem with separatists in Quebec. The 1995 referendum came within a whisker of being passed, and it continues to be a source of contention throughout Canada. The separatists in Quebec seek special recognition for their ‘distinct society' and control the provincial legislature. They also seek to have it both ways – separation from Canada, yet they also want to continue to receive federal money from Ottawa.

As a prime example of absurdity, Quebec has ‘language police' that make it their sole purpose in life to ensure that business signs have lettering in French at least twice the size of the English lettering. This even applies to the predominantly English communities that are fairly close to borders Quebec shares with New York and Vermont. Their zeal in enforcing these stupid rules borders on obsessive. The fact of the matter is that business owners should be left alone.

The Civil Rights Act of 1965 did not consider language a factor in determining the needs of the people. There are enough institutions and organizations, both public and private, that are more than willing and do in fact, offer classes in English for those who wish to learn it and thus avail themselves of a fullness of what American life has to offer.

These actions alone effectively negate the need for an Executive Order such as 13166, and as such, it, like so many of Clinton's other Executive Orders, should be rescinded. The majority of the American people (including our newest immigrants) are both sufficiently intelligent and motivated to make it on their own. If they are not, then they will have only themselves to blame for their situation and lot in life. We, as a people, should not have to subsidize freeloaders who are unwilling to out in their fair share.

The inability to speak English should not be a civilly protected right as a means of accommodating a very small minority. It would be easier and a lot cheaper to provide these people the opportunity to learn English. This would allow them to be fully contributing members of the communities in which they live.

© 2000 Timothy Rollins. Rollins is an American and freelance writer living just outside of Toronto, Canada. He is a columnist for The American Partisan, Ether Zone Magazine, Enter Stage Right, OpinioNet and WebToday. He is also the past Senior Editor of Right Magazine, former Associate Editor of USA Journal Online and was a regular contributor to the Covenant Syndicate. He has also appeared as a guest columnist in the Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) and the Halifax (Nova Scotia) Daily Herald in Canada. He has also been featured in the Toronto SUN and USA TODAY. He can be reached by e-mail at trollins@idirect.com.

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