The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee in response to legislation that would designate English as the official language of the commonwealth.
House Bill 361, the Pennsylvania Official Language Act, would make English the official language of Pennsylvania and designate it as the language of all official acts of government. Another piece of legislation, House Bill 888, The Official Language Act, would make English the official language of the state and its political subdivisions.
“The commonwealth is facing numerous challenges right now," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "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?"
Thirty states have enact English only legislation. Proponents of the laws claim that it encourages immigrants to learn English and promotes cultural unity.
"This division of the United States into separate language groups contributes to racial and ethnic conflicts," explains the website of U.S.English, Inc. the nation's oldest and largest group dedicated to promoting English as the official language of the United States. "Designating English as the official language will help reverse this harmful process."
Opponents of the law say it violates non-English speakers First Amendment right to communicate with or petition the government.
"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," Hoover said.
“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."