Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial


by Steve Fair

In November 2010, Oklahoma voters will be casting their ballot on a State Question authored by State Senator Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. The State Question, if passed, will amend the State Constitution to require that Oklahoma state government conduct business in the English language. According to a poll by Bill Shapard of Soonerpoll, 86% of Oklahomans support making English the official language of states government. The joint resolution passed the State House by a vote of 89-8 and the Senate by a vote of 44-2 back in May during the later part of the 2009 legislative session.

“Making English the official language of state government is not only the humane thing to do, it’s also cost-effective. Right now, Oklahoma taxpayers can be forced to pay for government materials to be printed in up to 300 different languages or even pay for individual translators in every language. We are already seeing large sums spent on Spanish-language driver’s manuals no one uses while facing a shortage of English manuals. It’s time to eliminate that waste and be efficient with taxpayer funds.” I’m certain that the people of the state of Oklahoma will support the resolution as drafted and it will be part of our constitution,” Sykes said confidently.

The actual ballot language for the SQ is: “This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Article 30. This amendment states that English is the common and unifying language of the state. All official actions of the state would be in English, except as required by federal law. No one would have a cause of action against an agency or subdivision of the state for failure to provide actions in any other language. The amendment could not be construed to diminish or impair uses of Native American languages. The Legislature would be able to enact related laws.”

Note that Sykes and the House authors made a provision for Oklahoma rich Native American language heritage, which had been a controversial issue in the 2008 legislative session.
Already thirty other states and more than fifty nations have adopted official English laws. Sykes has worked long and hard on this issue. He campaigned on the issue when he ran in 2006. But getting it to a vote of the people did not come without difficulty.

In a letter dated April 14, 2009(in the middle of the "English" debate in the legislature) from Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, the DOJ letter states, “As you know, recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with various civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin.” The letter continues, “State agencies and other entities in Oklahoma that receive federal financial assistance thus would be precluded by federal law from abiding by an English-only requirement where it conflicts with their obligations under Title VI.”

The not so veiled threat from the feds that Oklahoma would lose federal money if voters chose to make English the official language of state government raised the hackles of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation. Senators Coburn, Inhofe, and U.S. Reps Lucus, Cole, Fallin, Sullivan, and Boren fired off a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pointing out that several other states have passed similar legislation and asked if they too have been “accused by the Department of Justice to be in violation with Title VI, or formally threatened with funding termination?” The delegation letter asked for an explanation for what prompted the DOJ to write the state of Oklahoma on this issue and seeks explanation for what funds would be eliminated should Oklahomans pass the English only amendment.

Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. said, “Attorney General Holder owes the residents of Oklahoma an explanation as to why this thinly veiled threat was issued to Oklahoma on a state matter. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a bureaucrat in Washington dictating more of what we can and cannot do. Officials at the Department of Justice should focus on more pressing matters under their jurisdiction before issuing statements about a state issue that has yet to become law.”

On October 9th, the Congressional delegation received a response from the DOJ. The explanation stated the Department learned of the Oklahoma Constitutional amendment through media reports and said, “Please be assured that voter approval next year of Oklahoma’s official English amendment would not affect the state’s eligibility for federal financial assistance from the Department.” U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe said, “I am pleased that the Justice Department has backed off its threat over Oklahoma’s proposed English-only constitutional amendment.”

Voters should vote to approve the State Question next November and the reasons are clear. First, by making English our official language we encourage immigrants to assimilate into American society. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "We have one language here, and that is the English language, and we intend to see that the [assimilation] crucible turns our people out as Americans." Secondly, Official English would also reinforce America's historic message to new immigrants - that we expect them to learn English as the first step in that assimilation.

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