Monday, December 8, 2008

English-Only: Bad Policy, Worse Message

According to PostPolitics, the Tennessee Supreme Court today removed the last legal challenge to an English-only ballot measure in Metro Nashville. The state high court refused to grant an expedited hearing on an appeal of a lower court ruling that the referendum could go forward on January 22nd. If approved by Nashville voters, the English-only proposal would mandate the use of English in all official transactions of the city government. The proposed measure provides for a few exceptions but they seem murky and largely unworkable.

What a really bad idea. Not only would such a measure be very bad public policy, it would send an even worse message to the rest of the country (and the world) about the Music City's unwillingness to welcome non-English speaking tourists, foreign businesses and international conferences. 

As public policy, this measure could easily hamstring efforts by law enforcement to keep Nashville safe. Imagine a police officer, fluent in Spanish, who would now be unsure whether he could take the statement of an eye-witness to crime who happened also to be a Spanish speaker with limited command of English.  Imagine undercover law enforcement agents unable to obtain permission to conduct operations in any language other than English. 

For Nashville's large and growing foreign tourism and business investment sectors, the English-only law would have a chilling effect. Imagine city agencies charged with promoting Nashville to foreign tourists and business prospects not knowing for sure if they have to do so in English only. What do they say to prospective visitors and investors who ask about the meaning of this English-only nonsense?

Nashville is home to several internationally prestigious health care facilities and universities with global reputations for their cutting-edge research. How is Nashville supposed to bill itself as a potential host of international conferences for important world-wide health groups when we hang out the 'English-only' sign?  

Finally, we have to wonder what message passage of the English-only law would send to our children and students. Would they not naturally conclude that study of foreign languages is unnecessary and even undesirable? What a terrible lesson for the future leaders of our city as they prepare to take their rightful place in a highly complex and increasingly interconnected world.

The world becomes smaller every day. The citizens of Nashville cannot allow the world to believe that our minds here in Middle Tennessee are also getting smaller. Tennessee's capital city is large and diverse and plays an increasingly important role on the world stage.  Passage of the English-only initiative would be a big step backwards and an embarrassment to those who fight every day to make our city safer, more prosperous and culturally richer.

Those fighting to defeat the English-only referendum have launched a new website to stop this nonsense. It's called Nashville For All of Us. ElectBlue encourages all of our readers, Tennesseans and non-Tennesseans alike, to visit the website and offer help in whatever way you can.

No comments: