Oklahoma lawmakers try for official English law

January 15, 2009 7:53:43 AM PST
Oklahoma voters may get a chance to make English the state's official language, a proposal that was bitterly opposed by Indian tribes last year. Republican state lawmakers said Wednesday they will work for a second consecutive year to send the constitutional amendment to voters.

A group of lawmakers led by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, author of Oklahoma's sweeping anti-illegal immigrant law, said they are refiling legislation that was unsuccessful last year to make English the official language of Oklahoma government. Lawmakers say the bill is designed to save taxpayer money and help legal immigrants assimilate into U.S. society.

"As our common American language, English and the 'melting pot' process it supports has made the United States the most successful multiethnic nation in history," Terrill said. However, he said "politically correct multilingualism" has divided the nation into separate communities within the same geographic location.

If approved by voters, the official English law would end bilingual or multilingual driver's license tests and prohibit official state forms or signage in any language but English, unless covered by one of the exceptions.

Supporters said the bill exempts the languages of Oklahoma's 39 federally recognized tribes and allows the use of both Braille and sign language in government services.

American Indian leaders expressed opposition to a similar bill last year because it might change tribal language programs. One of them, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith, repeated his opposition.

"We have Indians in this state who have lived under a regime of English-only; that was the rule in Indian boarding schools in Oklahoma for generations," Smith said in a statement.

"We've seen what English-only has done to native communities, where bilingual speakers are rarer today than ever," he continued. "I can't see that Oklahoma is a better place because whole generations were punished for violating an English-only policy."

The legislation also contains other exceptions for things like public health and safety as well as trade, commerce and tourism.

But Smith said the exceptions do not make the measure more acceptable.

"The fact that the English-only policy being put forward today will not be applied to Indian languages does not mean that we think it is OK to do to another people what was done to our fathers," he said.


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