Monday, February 27, 2012

English as Official Language: Dog Whistle to Intolerance

On Tuesday February 21, Frederick County Maryland became the first in the State to make English the official language.  Some folks fall into the trap of believing that making English official will force more people to learn it, and they will therefore be better integrated into the dominant society.

As columnist Petula Dvorak pointed out in a Washngton Post/Post Local column, it is true that learning English leads to better wages, better opportunity, and better education.  But when Board Vice President Paul Smith says “a common language will build unity in the county and improve county efficiency,” what he really means is what Board President Blain Young made very clear: “I think this measure preserves and enhances the quality of life for Frederick County citizens.”  There’s the dog whistle: As the Huffington Post reports, 19 people addressed the commissioners on the measure during the meeting, but only two spoke in favor of the English-only plan, which the board president, Blaine Young, said would “deter illegal immigration.”

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick Maryland are organizing a protest.  An email to the Board of Trustees and congregational leaders said:  “We believe our congregation needs to publicaly oppose this action and to do so immediately.  The law violates our principles by attempting to marginalize a whole group of people.  Since immigration is the theme of the upcoming UUA General Assembly it seems particularly timely that we should take a stand on an immigration issue that is unfolding in our own front yard. . . .”

The first of seven Unitarian Universalist principles is is to “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  There is no accompanying plan in the Frederick County action for providing English Second Language classes or any other assistance to Hispanic immigrants, regardless of their legal status.  In fact, as WTOP reported early Wednesday morning, part of the reason for taking this action is to assure that no taxpayer money will be spent on language accessibility, other than health and safety, and [of course] tourism and trade.

The second Unitarian Universalist principle is “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” not “enhancing the quality of life for . . . citizens.”

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