Coalition opposes official English

By Tim Talley
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 4-08

A coalition of religious and cultural groups urged state lawmakers to defeat legislation that would make English the official language of the state, a proposal coalition members said targets Hispanics and is an affront to American Indians and their native languages.

“English-only legislation is punitive and counterproductive,” said Jim Langdon, president of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice. “It is regressive instead of progressive.”

“We have literally said we do not want people here who do not speak our language,” said Pam Maisano, legislative advocate for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.

The measure, expected to be debated on the House floor next week, would prevent the state from having to deliver taxpayer services, such as driver’s license tests, in a language other than English and avoid the cost of providing services in multiple languages, according to its author, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore.

Terrill said the bill excludes American Indian languages from its provisions and would constitutionally protect them. It is similar to laws passed in 30 other states.

Langdon said the bill could affect economic development by making the state seem intolerant of people who speak other languages, a charge Terrill denied.

“The bill should have absolutely no impact on economic development in any way, shape or form,” Terrill said.

“Representative Terrill and his followers seem to want to close the gate to Oklahoma, making our state unwelcome to those who are different than the majority,” Langdon said.

“We live in a global economy and our state businesses need and deserve every advantage in attracting international commerce,” Langdon said. “Our most prominent and successful businesses in this state today are ones who have embraced diversity to make their companies stronger.”

“Assimilation is the worst thing I can think of for America,” said David Bernstein of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa.

Pat Fennell, executive director the Latino Community Development Agency, said she has never heard members of the Latino community said they don’t want to speak English but learning a new language takes time.

Fennell and others said it generally takes three generations for members of an immigrant family to speak English fluently.

“Don’t pass legislation to address problems that don’t exist,” she said.

Langdon said lawmakers should stop driving wedge issues and instead focus on creating jobs, helping students learn and fix roads and bridges.

“Our diversity in Oklahoma makes our state great,” he said.