by Andy Hoover, PA ACLU Legislative Director
The commonwealth is facing numerous challenges right now. And yet the most important thing the House State Government Committee can do this week is debate naming English as the official language, as if English is in danger of extinction. It’s the theater of the absurd. The legislature sometimes does not deserve the public criticism that it gets, but this hearing is a good example of why the legislature’s public approval rating is so low. Is this really the most important thing that the General Assembly has to do this week?
The burden is on the supporters of these bills to prove why they’re needed and to prove that English is in some kind of danger. The fact is that they cannot prove that. Nearly 100 percent of Hispanics, as one example, believe that learning English is essential, and there continues to be a high demand for English classes across Pennsylvania. If the supporters of these bills really want to support English as our unifying language, they should advocate for increased funding for English programs in the next budget cycle.
While the overwhelming majority of American citizens and residents speak English, some of our neighbors speak foreign languages exclusively. They also have a right to access their government. Important government services could be cut off to some of our neighbors, including emergency services like law enforcement, medical care, and natural disaster relief.
If enacted, the message these bills would send to workers and multi-national corporations is that they’re not welcome here. We are an old state that grows at a slower rate than the rest of the nation. Our K-12 enrollment has been flat for 20 years. Can we afford to become a state that is also unwelcoming to immigrants and ethnic minorities?
The legislature has better things to do with its time. Hopefully the House will be wise and reject this legislation.
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