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English Only for Utah?

This site was created to help defeat the proposed "English Only" bill in Utah. This bill was defeated in Spring of 1999 in the Utah House. The group U.S. English has vowed to pay to collect signatures to put the bill on the general ballot as an initiave. If that happens, we'll be back. As a side note, Washington D.C.-based U.S. English also promised to work to defeat Utah legislators who voted against the bill. In late January, the Utah House Government Operations Committee voted to let House Bill 189 die in the committe. So, at least for this year, the battle is over. Thanks to those in the legal, education, government, immigrant, minority, and non-minority communities that participated in letting the legislature know why this bill was wrong for Utah. The bill would have made English Utah's official language and (with several exceptions) prohibited government workers or the state or its political subdivisions from conducting government business or printing information in any language but English.

We believe the prposed English Only bill was an anti-minority and anti-immigrant initiative that offered no benefit to the state or any Utah citizen or group of citizens. Instead, the bill would have served to reduce government efficiency, create an environment that invited discrimination of minority language speakers, and unconstitutionally restricted freedom of speech.

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The Text of the proposed "English Only Bill"

"English as Official Language of State"

1998 General Session

State of Utah

An act relating to state affairs in general; declaring English to be the official language for the conduct of government business in Utah; requiring the return to the general fund of any funds appropriated or designated for providing services in another language; and providing exceptions.

This act affects sections of Utah Code Annotated 1953 as follows:

63-13-1.5, Utah Code Annotated 1953

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Utah:
Section 1. Section 63-13-1.5 is enacted to read:

63-13-1.5. Official state language.

(1) English is declared to be the official language of Utah.

(2) Except as provided in Subsection (3), all official documents, transactions, proceedings, meetings, or publications issued, conducted, or regulated by, on behalf of, or representing the state and its political subdivisions shall be in English.

(3) Languages other than English may be used:

(a) when required by the United States constitution, the Utah constitution, federal law, or federal regulation;

(b) when public health and safety needs require it;

(c) in the public and higher education systems according to rules made by the State Board of Education and the State Board of Regents that meet the requirements of Subsection (4);

(d) in judicial proceedings, when necessary to insure that justice is served;

(e) to promote and encourage tourism and economic development; and

(f) by libraries when:

(i) collecting and promoting foreign language materials; and

(ii) providing foreign language services and activities.

(4) The State Board of Education and the State Board of Regents shall make rules governing the use of foreign languages in the public and higher education systems that promote the following principles:

(a) that non-English speaking children and adults should become able to read, write, and understand English as quickly as possible;

(b) that foreign language instruction should be encouraged;

(c) that formal and informal programs in English as a second language should be initiated, continued, and expanded; and

(d) that public schools establish communication with parents of children within their system using, when necessary, a means designed to maximize understanding while encouraging those parents who do not speak English to become more proficient in English.

(5) Unless exempted by Subsection (2) or (3), all state funds appropriated or designated for the printing or translation of materials or the provision of services or information in a language other than English shall be returned to the General Fund.

(6) (a) Each state agency that has state funds appropriated or designated for the printing or translation of materials or the provision of services or information in a language other than English shall:

(i) notify the Division of Finance that those monies exist and the amount of those monies; and

(ii) return those monies to the Division of Finance.

(b) The Division of Finance shall account for those monies and inform the Legislature of the existence and amount of those monies at the beginning of the Legislature's annual general session.

(c) The Legislature may appropriate any monies received under this section to the State School Board for use in English as a second language programs.

(7) Nothing in this section affects the ability of government employees, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, or private individuals to exercise their rights under:

(a) the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; or
(b) Utah Constitution, Article 1, Sections 4 and 15.

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Arguments for and against the bill

On January 10, in a speech at the 1998 state convention of Utah's Eagle Forum, Representative Tammy Rowan offered her justifications for her English Only bill. She gave three: her belief that the bill will bring unity to Utah, that it will save Utah money, and that it will lead to economic empowerment of immigrants. We rebut those arguments below, and include additional reasons the bill would have a negative impact on Utah.

1. Would the bill increase Unity among Utahns?

In her speech, she said she was originally motivated to introduce the English Only bill upon seeing that "Canada is being torn apart because of a language barrier." She didn't explain how it was language, and not historical economic and social conflict, that was creating tension in Canada, or why Canada's experience was any more relevant to Utah than that of Switzerland, which peacefully coexists with 4 official languages. She has said that her bill would bring unity to Utah by requiring a shared language experience. However, note first that Utah, which is 95.8% Caucasian (97.3% of Rowan's Utah County residents are Caucasian) and more than 60% Mormon, is one of the most homogenous states in the U.S. If Utah had unity problems that should be addressed by the government (we don't believe it does) they would be due to religion, politics, or allegiances to university sports teams, not language.

More importantly, as Ignacio Garcia, a BYU Assistant Professor of History, points out, it is difficult to imagine how bill 189 could create unity. Professor Garcia was involved in working against similar legislation in Arizona. "To judge whether this bill will bring unity," he says, "you can look at the past performance of similar laws in California, Arizona, and other states." He says his review of both the anecdotal evidence and the studies performed on the impact of English Only laws show they increase polarization, not unity. This is caused by the anti-immigrant and anti-minority message the bill sends to non-English speaking residents, and because after withdrawing formerly available language services, local governments have not put extra efforts into helping non-English speakers learn English or cope with new service limitations.

Additionally, he says, "A law like this can encourage society's fringe elements to engage in discriminatory activity against minority groups." He gave as an example the case of a Spanish-speaking Texan who was ridiculed before a judge in open court for speaking Spanish. The judge referred to the woman's using Spanish to communicate with her children as a form of child abuse. Another example of how an English Only law can provide an environment for discrimination is the recent case of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, a company in California that denied life insurance policies to people that didn't meet the company's English proficiency standards (After being sued, the company agreed to drop its English proficiency requirement).

2. Would the bill save Utah money?

2.A. How would the cost of publishing documents and providing services be affected?

In her speech to the Eagle Forum state convention, to give an idea of how expensive providing services in multiple languages can be, Representative Rowan said that Canada spends $6 billion a year in this effort. Her audience seemed startled when she said this, either because $6 billion is a lot of money, or because there is no obvious connection between Canada's experience and Utah's.

Consider the experience of the U.S. Government, which has a citizenry much more diverse than Utah's which speaks many more languages than do Utahns. A U.S. General Accounting Office study found that from 1990-1994, of the 400,000 documents printed by the entire U.S. Government, only 265, or .065%, were printed in a language other than English. "Practically English-Only," Washington Post, p. A-19 (Sept. 27, 1995).

In her convention speech, Ms. Rowan admitted she did not know how much money her bill could save; and in fact, a State of Utah report estimating how passage of the bill would impact State agencies shows there may be little or no cost savings. For example, the Department of Workforce Services reported that its language translations are performed at no cost by the Utah National Guard, that passage of the law would lead to a "loss of efficiency" in providing services, and that it would increase costs because of extra time needed to process complicated applications completed by customers who were less than fluent in English. Most of the other agencies reported passage of the bill would have either no effect on their budget, or any impact would be minimal. The agencies that identified the biggest expenditures, were the Office of Recovery Services, which reported it spends less than $2,000 annually in costs related to bilingual materials and translation services, and the Division of Youth Corrections, which said it spends less than $5,000 annually on such costs.

2.B. How would Utah's risk of facing expensive lawsuits be affected by the bill?

Rep. Rowan has also suggested passing the law will decrease Utah's risk of being sued by minority citizens. At the convention, she said that because of legal requirements, "if we begin providing services in any language other than English, there is no stopping until its available in all 120 [languages spoken in Utah]." The fact is, Utah has faced no such deluge of suits: it has not received even one. And, we have yet to see any evidence to suggest that it will. Instead, as mentioned above, from 1990-1996 the U.S. Government, with a more diverse citizenry that speaks many more languages do Utahns, printed only 265 out of 400,000 documents in a language other than English. (See cite in previous paragraph)

Passage of the bill will actually greatly increase Utah's chances of facing lawsuits. Though Rep. Rowan has claimed there is "no risk that this [Bill 189] will be challenged constitutionally, " the risk is very high that the bill, or its application, or both, will be challenged in court if it is passed. The Fall 1997 edition of the ACLU Reporter, a newsletter published by the ACLU of Utah, contained an article that examined the constitutionality of the bill. The article concluded that the bill created serious constitutional concerns, and was "likely to face legal challenges, if not from the ACLU, then from individuals and organizations committed to free speech and the rights of immigrants."

3. Economic empowerment?

Ms. Rowan claims the bill would lead to the economic empowerment of immigrants, and points out that if you can't speak English in Utah, the available jobs are usually very low paying. If her bill could do anything to help immigrants learn English, perhaps Utah's minority communities would favor it. As it is, the Utah Coalition of La Raza, the Centro de Familia, Image de Utah, the SLC County Hispanic Employee Association, and other minority organizations are against the bill. The bill would seem to make it more difficult for many non-English speakers to learn English. We give one example of how, below. But, the subject of how one can best learn a new language is very complex, and one example doesn't begin to cover the issues. We believe this matter is best addressed by persons who have experienced learning another language as a minority-language speaker, and by Utah's state agencies with expertise in this area. One of the detriments of the bill is that it would substitute an Orem legislator's judgement on language-learning by minority residents (remember, Orem is 97.3% Caucasian) for the judgement of Utah's agency experts and the communities and individual citizens who are faced with learning English.

Consider that bilingual educators say that for many adults, it can take over 5 years to become fluent in a new language. As just one example, imagine you're new to Utah, you speak Spanish, and that you want to learn English (as virtually all immigrants do; its the obvious path to a better economic status). You need money to pay for living expenses and for English classes. How to get the money? You work. How to get to work? You drive, or else your opportunities are very limited. How to get a driver's license? You take the driver's license exam. It's now available in Spanish. Could you pass it in English? Not now, and likely not until after you've had at least a couple of years of English classes. But, if this bill is passed, and the license exam is not offered in Spanish, you won't be able to get a license to drive to that job that allows you the extra time and money to take the English classes you want.

Reasons the bill should not be passed.

As discussed above, we believe that none of Rep. Rowan's offered justifications for the bill are valid. The bill will not foster unity among Utah communities. The bill will not empower immigrants that don't speak English. The only possible benefit the bill offers is a minimal cost saving in the thousands of dollars, that if achieved, would likely be swallowed by the greater expenses of providing more inefficient government services.

In the absence of justification for the bill, as outlined below, the Utah legislature is faced with several significant reasons not to pass it.

1. Especially in Utah, the bill's anti-minority and anti-immigrant message is inappropriate.

Utah, with its history of pioneers who fled here to escape intolerant state governments, and its experience with fighting an intolerant federal government, should be ashamed to now be considering using its laws as the mechanism of intolerance towards minority populations.

As the Salt Lake City Council stated in its resolution against English Only legislation, Utah "was founded on a commitment to democratic principles, and not on racial or ethnic homogeneity,and has drawn strength from a diversity of languages and cultures and from a respect for individual liberties." The resolution also included a statement on the commercial benefits of multilingualism, saying it "is a tremendous resource to SLC and such resources encourage businesses to locate here and assists Salt Lake City companies to more easily expand their reach into the international market."

2. The bill doesn't respect the place of Native American communities and individuals in Utah's history and present.

Obviously, Utah's Native American communities where here prior to both the Spanish explorers and priests and the Mormon pioneers. Utah's State Government has as one of it's goals assisting the Native American communities in preserving their cultures. This bill would work against that goal. It would prohibit Native American languages from being used by government institutions or employees in many situations. San Juan County, which includes part of a Navajo reservation, is 45% non-white. Is it appropriate for Rep. Rowan to tell San Juan County government institutions and workers that cannot communicate to Navajo residents in their native language.

3. The bill would create an environment open to discrimination

If this bill passes, it would support the tendency of some to think of someone who speaks another language as significantly different, or"other." This author remembers talking to the owner of a Provo business who ranted regarding a Mexican-American customer of the business that, "She can't even talk English right, why don't she just go back where she belongs." And, as Professor Garcia was quoted above: "A law like this can encourage society's fringe elements to engage in discriminatory activity against minority groups."

4. The bill is an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech.

The bill is likely to be held unconstitutional simply for its unreasonably broad scope in interfering with the ability of public employees to communicate with Utahns. As one example of this, it says that "all official documents, transactions, proceedings, meetings, or publications... regulated by ...the state and its political subdivisions shall be in English." What is regulated by the state? Insurance documents, prescriptions, transportation licenses, etc. Perhaps a better question is what is not regulated by the state.

Rep. Rowan has claimed "This bill does not restrict anyone's free speech." But, in fact, it does. It says that "all official documents, transactions, proceedings, meetings, or publications issued, conducted, or regulated by, on behalf of, or representing the state and its political subdivisions shall be in English."

That the law says "Languages other than English may be used (a) when required by the United States constitution, the Utah constitution, federal law, or federal regulation," doesn't mean the law doesn't restrict speech. In many communication situations, a person who is not required to use the non-English language. Consider the example of a state employee holding an official meeting regarding a zoning ordinance with a group of Spanish-speaking Utah residents. There is no law that requires the employee to speak in Spanish.

The Arizona English Only law was initially overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals because it, similar to Bill 189, was impermissibly broad in its restriction of how government employees could use language. This decision was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court for procedural reasons, but the analysis of the Court of Appeal's decision still is the best judge of whether the Utah law would stand scrutiny. It wouldn't. Yniguez v. Arizonans for Official English

5. The legislation is an example of over-regulation, and would result in less efficient government.

Within the context of a society that already, without government influence, creates every motivation for immigrants to learn the dominant English language, the bill seeks to forcibly mandate this result. In doing so, it serves in a overbearing and heavy-handed fashion to reduce state and local governments' ability to communicate with and provide services to Utah residents.

If a government agency determines that it could most efficiently and cheaply carry out its mission by providing reports or forms in in Spanish and English, except for its few exceptions, this bill would prevent the multilingual services.

And, suppose Governor Leavitt holds an official meeting with a group of Spanish-speaking Utah residents. If this law passes, he could not choose to address the Utahns in Spanish. The bill says no mas to "all official documents, transactions, proceedings, meetings, or publications issued, conducted, or regulated by.. the state and its political subdivisions"... in any language but English.

As the court wrote in Yniguez v. Arizonans for Official English:

"More generally, the facts of this case, as well as elementary reason, tell us that government offices are more efficient and effective when state and local employees are permitted to communicate in languages other than English with consumers of government services who are not proficient in that language."

6. The law is unnecessary, an example of heavy-handed big government.

Utah is 95.8% Caucasian (97.3% of Rowan's Utah County residents are Caucasian). We have one of the lowest percentages of non-English speaking populations in the country. Why Rep. Rowan feels a need to address this language issue with her bill is unclear.

No"English Only" law is needed to teach immigrants the usefulness of learning English. Their daily experiences in travel, school, shopping, entertainment, etc. teach this. There are no individual immigrant citizens or communities suggesting that immigrant should not or need not learn English. In fact, the evidence suggests that immigrant parents place more importance than other parents do on learning English. A 1985 Florida study showed that while 94% of Anglo and Black parents felt it was essential for their children to read and write English perfectly, 98% of Latino parents felt this way. "The 1985 South Florida market" (Strategy Research Corp. 1985).

And, note that in California, half of all recent Mexican immigrants speak English, while 95% of first-generation Mexican-Americans are proficient in English, and virtually all second-generation Mexican-Americans are proficient in English--more than 50% speak only English. McCarty and Valdez, Current and Future Effects of Mexican Immigration in Cal. (Rand Corp. 1985).

Given the potential negative impacts of the bill discussed above, as there appears to be no strong justification for the bill, the Utah legislature should overwhelmingly reject the bill.

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What Can You Do?

Below is a list of simple things you can do stop Utah from passing House Bill 189. If you can, try and take 10 minutes and do two things from the list below.

Legislative votes are often won or lost on the strength of participation by individual Utah citizens. Every effort makes a difference.

1. Call or
e-mail Governor Mike Leavitt and ask him to exercise some leadership to stop this legislation. As Governor of the state, he should be working to protect all of our citizens (not just those fluent in English), and to preserve the state's national and international image.

2. Tell the leadership in Utah's House of Representatives the same thing. You expect leadership. And, if you can, urge your own Representative to vote against HR 189.
Each Representative receives mail during the session at 318 State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114
Click here for additional information on Utah House Representatives

House Leadership:
Melvin R. Brown (R) Speaker of the House
Christine R Fox (R) Majority Leader
Kevin S Garn (R) Majority Whip
John L Valentine (R) Assistant Maj. Whip
David M Jones (D)Minority Leader
Steve Barth (D) Minority Whip

We'd like to provide e-mail addresses for these representatives. If you know an address, please e-mail it to us.

In each communication you make, briefly summarize your main arguments against the bill. For example, when we communicate with legislators, we might just explain a couple of problems the bill has: it portrays the Utah Government and citizenry as anti-immigrant and anti-minority (in other words, racist), the bill doesn't respect the place of Native Americans in Utah, and it's an example of over-regulation, and would result in less efficient government. If there's time, we also mention that the bill is an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech.

3.Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about why you oppose HR 189.

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Results of Jan. 15 Echohawk/Rowan Debate.

Rep. Tammy Rowan, the Orem legislator that sponsored the bill, debated the merits of the bill against Larry Echohawk in a debate hosted by the UVSC Center for the Study of Ethics and sponsored by Student Review (a newspaper/magazine put out by BYU students. Here's the text of an article about the debate (coming as soon as I take a moment to create a link to this SL Tribune article).

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Related newspaper articles

Deseret News
Would bill open door to bigotry?
Should Utah name English as its official language?
The invisible Wendover
Using native tongue is a basic right

SL Tribune
City Council Casts Vote For English Plus[and against the English Only bill]
Ariz Language Law Described as Racist
Puerto Rico Statehood Bill Dies in House
IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE: Should Ethnic Mormons...

Provo Daily Herald
Rowan's English-only bill inciting critical words

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Links to info on English Only Legislation

English Only?
English Only Laws
ACLU report to U.S. Congress
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The information on this page is provided by Utahns for Responsible Legislation ("URL"). For more information or if you'd like to send us information or feedback, please e-mail us.
This site is maintained by Stirling Adams (801/222-4453), and was last modified on January 19, 1998.