Monday, June 30, 2008

Raising Arizona

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2008 at 9:48 AM

A City Paper story this morning on efforts to put an “English only” referendum on the Davidson County ballot this fall cites the state of Arizona as an example of a similar ballot initiative that passed easily. Yes, voters in Arizona did in 2006 approve a statewide ballot measure on the use of English by government entities. But unlike the one being circulated in Nashville, the Arizona measure, which amended the state constitution, sought to avert legal peril (namely, conflicts with the U.S. Constitution that might bring on a legal challenge) by incorporating specific guidelines on what kinds of government actions need not be in English. Let’s have us a wee look at Arizona’s approach after the jump. Article 28, Section 4 of the Arizona constitution says that “Official actions shall be conducted in English.” Importantly, though, Section 1 of that article enumerates things that don’t count as “official actions”:
"Official action" includes the performance of any function or action on behalf of this state or a political subdivision of this state or required by state law that appears to present the views, position or imprimatur of the state or political subdivision or that binds or commits the state or political subdivision, but does not include: (a) The teaching of or the encouragement of learning languages other than English. (b) Actions required under the federal individuals with disabilities education act or other federal laws. (c) Actions, documents or policies necessary for tourism, commerce or international trade. (d) Actions or documents that protect the public health and safety, including law enforcement and emergency services. (e) Actions that protect the rights of victims of crimes or criminal defendants. (f) Using terms of art or phrases from languages other than English. (g) Using or preserving Native American languages. (h) Providing assistance to hearing impaired or illiterate persons. (i) Informal and nonbinding translations or communications among or between representatives of government and other persons if this activity does not affect or impair supervision, management, conduct or execution of official actions and if the representatives of government make clear that these translations or communications are unofficial and are not binding on this state or a political subdivision of this state. (j) Actions necessary to preserve the right to petition for the redress of grievances.
In other words, everything that doesn’t really need to be in English or shouldn’t be in English doesn’t have to be in English. In contrast, the measure being pushed here in Nashville is bereft of qualifications or exceptions to the English language mandate in government communication:
Official actions (those which bind or commit the government) shall be taken only in the English language, and all official government communications and publications shall be published only in English. No person shall have a right to government services in any other language.
If the “English only” proposal in Nashville looked more like Arizona's, it would still be morally and politically objectionable as pointless and unnecessary, but it would perhaps pose significantly fewer potentially costly legal risks to the city and its taxpayers.

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