Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nashville's Controversial and Emotional 'English First' Proposition Vote

On Jan. 22, Nashville will vote on an English Charter Amendment.

The information, disinformation and emotion on this issue is running pretty high in some areas.

Some look at it as the government saving money in a time when cutbacks are needed.
Others call it racist. Some call it an attempt at assimilation.
Others say it is just not needed.
No doubt that immigrants are better off if they speak English and ultimately prosper more if they do. Exploitation of these workers for lower wage rates is fairly rampant.

Rumors abound. One local hospital issued a memo to its employees saying their jobs were in danger if the proposition passed.

Politically correct 'diversity' is a factor but looking at Nashville's diverse population one sees 'cities within the city' as immigrants congregate in certain areas. The assimilation is slow if not non-existent.

Below are some of the viewpoints.


The Official English Charter Amendment

On Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009, voters will have the chance
to vote on the following Charter Amendment:

“English is the official language of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee. Official actions which bind or commit the government shall be taken only in the English language, and all official government communications and publications shall be in English. No person shall have a right to government services in any other language. All meetings of the Metro Council, Boards, and Commissions of the Metropolitan Government shall be conducted in English. The Metro Council may make specific exceptions to protect public health and safety. Nothing in this measure shall be interpreted to conflict with federal or state law.”

"In the first place we should insist that the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equity with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming an American and nothing but an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

- Theodore Roosevelt in a letter to the American Defense Society in 1919.

See the FAQ's and more


Is Nashville's proposed 'English First' amendment necessary?

January 22nd is the official day for voting on the "English First” Charter Amendment proposed for Nashville Government by Metro Councilman (CM) Eric Crafton.

But controversy over the legislation has been running through the community for years. Supporters claim it only insists official Nashville government business be conducted in English. Detractors argue “It's racist!”, “It's unsafe!”, “It's bad for business!” and everything in between.

A recent luncheon featured CM Crafton and Nathan Moore, a local attorney, political blogger and activist, presenting quick summaries of their support for and opposition to the legislation with a later Q&A.

The event's promo promised to strip emotion from the discussion and expose the bill's real consequences for Nashvillians. Yet it was clear from the presentations, questions and answers that people are passionate about the matter.

Consider each side's choice of name for the bill; “English First” v. “English Only”. While the bill's language requires government affairs to be “taken only in the English language”, it allows for “exceptions to protect public health and safety.” Supporters say this makes it “English First” while foes say “English Only”.

This is a special election requiring thousands in taxpayer dollars to undertake. Detractors call it a waste while proponents argue the measure was on November's “free” ballot until political and judicial machinations by their foes forced it off, necessitating a costly special election.

Far from costing taxpayers, supporters argue it will save Nashvillians over $100,000 annually by eliminating the need to provide free licensed translators. Foes point out 95% of that translating is mandated by Federal law and the Amendment could result in Nashville losing millions in Federal funding.

While not devoid of emotion, only Moore's comments offered what seemed a non-emotional reason to support his view. He didn't claim “It's racist”, “It's unsafe!”or “It's bad for business!”. He made the case, “It's unnecessary!” Tennessee State Law, in 1984, (TCA 4-1-404) established English as Tennessee's official language and requires “All communications and publications … produced by governmental entities in Tennessee shall be in English...” Given that, why does a Tennessee city's government need a law seeming to do little more than indicate they will abide by state law?

In CM Crafton's original 2006 request that Metro adopt English First, he stated it should do so based on TCA 4-1-404. English First supporters rightly recognize someone may attempt, in the future, to have Nashville government violate Tennessee's requirement for government business to be conducted in English. I agree with CM Crafton that we need protection from such an attempt. But to make English First a necessary addition to Metro legal code, Crafton must demonstrate how Tennessee state law fails to protect his constituents and how English First will.

by Ken Marrero


The New York Times Discovers English Only

by Pete Kotz

The New York Times weighs in today on English-Only, noting the Nashville would be the only big city in the U.S. to have such restrictions if the referendum wins. For those who've been following the issue, there's not a lot new here. But the best--and most ominous--quote comes from Chamber President Ralph Schulz:

"Economics is global, and to be competitive you cannot drive away immigrants and the businesses that rely on them. Businesses from outside Nashville have been calling and saying, 'Is Nashville a xenophobic place?' "

In the middle of depression, this probably isn't a good thing.
source - Nashville Scene


Newcomer Tom Oreck leads fight against English bill

Tom Oreck, chairman of Oreck Corp., is a relative newcomer to Middle Tennessee.

His company, which manufactures and sells vacuum cleaners and related household products, moved here in stages over the past two years from the storm-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast. Its corporate headquarters takes up one floor of an office building near Nashville International Airport. It has a manufacturing plant and call center in Cookeville, Tenn.

Oreck said the decision to relocate here was fueled by the Nashville community's willingness to embrace new corporate blood and new ideas. That's one reason he has joined a vigorous business community political campaign to defeat an English-only city charter amendment when it comes to a public vote later this month.

The proposed law would require government business to be conducted only in English, which Oreck and some other business leaders here feel is akin to placing a "Not Welcome" mat for other cultures on Nashville's economic doorstep. more


With English Only amendment, the ‘Know Nothings’ are back

The Know Nothings was a nativist political party founded in the 1840s with the sole purpose for existence being to oppose Catholic Irish immigrants. When asked about their activities, the party members were instructed to say “I know nothing.”

Let’s call the English Only amendment what it actually is — the Know Nothing amendment.

We are, in effect, witnessing the rebirth of the Know Nothings in Nashville, circa 2009. Except now the target is not Irish Catholics, but anyone who may not have a perfect mastery of the English language and the taxpayers of Davidson County who will be footing the half-million-dollar tab for this unnecessary special election.

The Know Nothing amendment (cleverly and deceptively now coined as English First by its supporters) would be a giant step backward for a city that has been at the forefront of national progress over the last two decades.

True to creed, the amendment’s most ardent supporter, Councilman Eric Crafton, asserted just last week that he does not know what it would actually do. This most comforting admission is accompanied by a taxpayer bill for a special election and the erasure of Nashville from the international map.

In stark contrast to what the supporters of the Know Nothing amendment do not know, we who oppose this ill-conceived amendment do know some things. We know that its enactment would diminish the global perception of Nashville, and Tennessee itself, as a place to do business. A “yes” vote would rip that all-precious keystone from beneath the Shining City on the Hill that Nashville works daily to become.

We also know that Tennessee code already establishes English as the official (but not the only) language of Tennessee, to include all city and county governments.

At its very best, the Know Nothing amendment is redundant. Other pushers of the Know Nothing amendment have freely admitted that the purpose is largely “symbolic.” If symbolism is what they are after, let them pool their own money and buy some ad space in this very paper.

Of other things we know — federal and constitutional law would make the Know Nothing amendment impotent from the start. It could not apply to education, public safety, or the courts, which means that where money is actually spent by Metro, the Know Nothing amendment would have no effect. Non-English speaking immigrants needing building permits already do not receive translation services. Nearly all vital services must be provided in multiple languages per federal law and the equal protection provision of the federal and Tennessee constitutions.

Lest we forget, we are a nation of immigrants. The perception that non-English immigrants do not want to learn the language is a false one. No one travels thousands of miles to a foreign land to not communicate.

Sadly, in 2009, what the Know Nothing amendment is set to accomplish is not known by its supporters, but the unfortunate consequences are all too clear to the rest of us.
more - The City Paper


Metro departments not sure about English Only’s impact

Various programs protected by federal law

Some of the most prominent instances where Metro government offers services in various languages are in the Police Department, the Health Department, the Fire Department and Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Those services are protected by federal laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states entities receiving federal funds must offer its services equally to everyone.

“Without being able to [speak in other languages], we would not be able to offer services like screening for sexually transmitted diseases or tuberculosis,” Health Department spokesman Brian Todd said. “We talked quite a bit about this particular bill and we would be omitted because it is health and safety.”

LaWanna Shelton, executive director of English Language Learning (ELL) for Metro Nashville Public Schools, told The City Paper that the details of English Only ramifications on public schools would need to be sorted out by Metro Legal. Educators will follow the guidelines given and comply with all applicable laws, Shelton said.

“If it passes, tell us what we can and can’t do, and we’re going to keep educating kids,” Shelton said. “These are adult issues. Leave them with adults. We are here to educate kids, and we follow guidelines.”

But there are certain services that federal laws mandate for children. Laws associated with federal funding are “very clear,” she said, in stating that parents have the right to receive and communicate information in a language comprehensible to them.

Other applicable federal laws are connected to lawsuits. Federal law states that every child needs access to core curriculum, which has been “widely interpreted” in terms of children with limited English proficiency, Shelton said.
more - The City Paper


Articles in the local newspapers lean towards encouraging a no vote but those that allow comments show a large number of people in support of the amendment. 'Conservative' talk radio is for the proposition. Informal polls during early voting are showing, supposedly, a 50/50 split.

We'll see.


  1. English should be required of anyone wanting to stay in this country and live.

    We had this trouble when making emergency calls with the fire department.

    Trying to communicae with someone sick or injured that doesn't speak English is damn near impossible.

    In Los Angeles, the problem has gotten so bad, they have to hire extra personnel to decipher the 75 or so languages and dialects spoken.

    We finally contracted out with a emergency service that had language specialists on call to deal with the numerous spoken sounds and spoke thru our 9-11 dispatcher, who relayed it to the language people and back...

    That helped, but when you're calling the FD, it's usually an emergency and routing the conversation thru a 3rd party to talk and hear the response damn sure doesn't help the emergency.

    Plus, it ties up equipment, firefighters, radio channels and 9-11 dispatch personnel.

    Which means that someone that does speak English trying to call 9-11 might get put on hold while the backlog is dealt with.

    So yes, English should be required of Americans and those wanting to be Americans.

  2. I agree Greg.

    If we moved to another country we would be expected to do the same.

    That's the whole point of Eric Crafton's amendment. His is fluent in Japanese and has lived in Japan so he has the perspective of a stranger in a strange land and what is needed as far as language goes.

    He has even stood up in the legislature speaking Japanese until he was asked to speak English to prove his point.

  3. WTF? So, if "English Only" passes no one will ever again clog the 911 system by begging for help in their native (non-English) language? Man, I had no idea solving that problem could be so easy...