Republican leaders just don’t get it. They talk a lot about freedom, small government, the founding fathers, etc., but they rarely act like they really believe what they say. More often than not, even when upholding pro-freedom sentiments, they promote top-down, intrusive, invasive, nosy, regulatory, thieving, tyrannical, choice-destroying, freedom-robbing options. This is to say, they talk limited government, and then promote big government solutions.
The latest version of this charade appears in the form of two identical bills—one each in the House (H.R.997) and Senate (S.503)—calling to impose English as the official language in the United States.
TEA Party princess Michele Bachmann backs it, and so do many other prominent conservatives in the House. The bill was introduced with 59 cosponsors, and now within only a few days has 138.
To many conservatives and Christians, this may sound like a wonderful idea. You may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?” “It’s about time.” But I would like to suggest to you that this is the wrong attitude. It is misguided to think that we uphold the principles that once made this nation great by imposing English as an official language. It is, in fact, distinctly un-American and quite liberal and progressive to use government to compel people into what we feel are good social manners. So I oppose any attitude that would empower government to enforce such a law. This is for three reasons: 1) such a law is unnecessary, 2) such a law is opposed to freedom and liberty, and 3) such a law is a dangerous precedent.
Unnecessary and Unhistorical
First, the proposed law is unnecessary. History clearly demonstrates this. Somehow, surrounded by Frenchmen and Indians and different languages and dialects in practically every little county, our founding fathers and framers of our Constitution saw absolutely no need to impose an official language. Somehow, we have made it under that system now for 223 years (actually longer) without needing the imposition of an official language.
(An exception, perhaps, was John Adams, who in a 1780 letter expressed his desire for Congress to establish an American Language Academy. I don’t see in the journals of the Continental Congress where this idea was ever even taken up for consideration, let alone taken seriously.)
Even when the vast western majority of this American land was 1) not even yet part of the nation, and 2) filled with countless Indian languages, and with a large portion of Spanish-speakers across the southwest, there was never a need to promote (let alone impose) English as part of a national identity. Even as the nation expanded into those territories, there was no issue of imposing an official language. Even after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), when tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking Mexicans remained in California territory mingled among English-speaking whites, there was no need and no outcry for English as an official language.
But for some reason, Republican leaders now deem it necessary (or just convenient?) to increase the already burdensome legal codes and bureaucracies—particularly the department of Homeland Security—throughout this nation with the regulation and oversight of people’s tongues.
What changed in American society that justifies exacerbating yet again the powers of the central government over our lives? What changed? An influx of immigrants? Hardly. We have historically, from day one, had multiple languages in our marketplaces, churches, homes, schools, etc. English always dominated as the language of commerce and politics freely and naturally (as it does today throughout much of the world). Limiting freedom in this area was unnecessary then, and nothing has changed that scenario.
And by the way, I am far from believing in or exalting the “America is a melting pot” idea so common today. That idea never existed in American before the late 19th Century. Rather, the multiculturalism of the early colonies was voluntary segregation, and a commitment to localism. No one wished to impose their German or Dutch on their neighboring counties. And yet everyone learned what English they needed—if any—to get by in the markets. The liberal progressive “meltingpot” idea represents a departure from that much freer society, and actually is the source of the hubris that says everyone must be forced to be equal in every way possible, including linguistically. The idea that everyone here must “speak the language” is an extension of this same mentality: “I don’t like you being different, so I will use law to force you to be like me.” Conservatives today who demand Juan and Kwon speak English are behaving like liberal progressives, and not like our founding fathers.
The Principle of Liberty
Second, the proposed law is opposed to the fundamental principle of liberty. It is bad enough that the liberal and corporate-interest bureaucrats already tell us what drugs we can buy, what we can eat, drink, how much, what kind of light bulbs we can and can’t buy, what kind of toilets, faucets, and practically every other aspect of our lives. Now Republicans want to join this regulation party and tell us how to talk as well. Welcome to Amerika. Fall in line, comrade.
Limiting choices by law is no way to restore freedom to a sliding country; it is the exact opposite. Republicans seem always to fall into the same practices as liberals when they want something done: control other people’s behavior by imposing their desires top-down by law. But for every law you create, you simultaneously create another crime. And for every crime, a punishment. For every punishment, law enforcement (a fine, a gun). This is coercion, not freedom.
Government grows, freedoms disappear. Republicans bawl (at least temporarily) when Democrats do this with health care, or the national department of education, etc. But then Republicans do exactly the same thing when it’s their turn in power. Government grows, freedom disappears.
But it’s alright to destroy freedoms as long as they’re someone else’s freedoms and not mine. Right?
While it may be popular with the ra-ra-Republican crowd (who are so painfully injured and insulted when they have to “press 2 for English”), this popularity itself is a product of the baser emotions of misguided “must look like me” patriotism. But this is not really patriotism. “My country, my language” is not the language of freedom. It is the language of tyranny. Indeed, when it is backed by force of law and threat of legal punishment, it is the official language of tyranny.
Anyone truly believing in a free society will want to have less government control over such fundamental choices. Instead of being annoyed at companies that offer customer service in Spanish, they would realize that this is how freedom works. If a businessman wishes to get ahead of his competition by serving the Spanish-speaking market, he will decide to speak the language. This is called consumer sovereignty—and it is the bedrock of a free market. The market does not demand that the customer bend to meet its dictates; the market itself bends to meet the needs and desires of the customers. The businessman can decide not to enter that market, but he would be sitting and watching easy money float by just out of his reach. A wise businessman would install that “press 2” button and do it quickly—before his competitors did so—and earn the trust and affection of those Spanish-speaking customers. I would. So rather than whining about companies that already do this, anyone who claims to believe in freedom should be applauding them as stellar examples of how a free market works.
Freedom of choice says let the businessman decide how he will meet the demands of the marketplace, and let the customer decide what business he prefers to consult. And if pressing “2” is so terribly unbearable, let that customer take his business elsewhere. This, again, is voluntary segregation—another word for free market—another word for freedom.
Anyone, on the other hand, who thinks the government should force anyone to speak one way or another, believes in limiting choices and limiting freedom. Rand Paul just stuck this argument pretty strongly to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency, Kathleen Hogan. People like this—whether liberals like Ms. Hogan or conservative Republicans—do not believe in free markets, but in rigged markets. They believe in using government fines, force and punishment to give themselves an advantage in the marketplace. They don’t really, truly care about freedom as long as they can force someone else to behave as they wish—including what language they speak. It’s time we took freedom seriously, and made a commitment to live with integrity and consistency in this area.
A Slippery Slope
Third, this bill is a dangerous precedent. I realize upon reading it, that this bill purports to apply only to official functions of government and to naturalization processes. It will be argued that this is right and proper and is no concern to individual freedoms (unless you are an illegal immigrant) or to the free marketplace. Yet largely unmentioned is the fact that the bill does contain this disturbing demand: “English language requirements and workplace policies, whether in the public or private sector, shall be presumptively consistent with the Laws of the United States.” What does this mean? To what could it be construed in a court to apply? And most importantly, how could this be expanded further in the future? It is a grievous precedent for those who esteem liberty.
We already have lost free choice in many areas to coercive programs like the ADA and the Public Accommodation section of the Civil Rights Act—things that are both political and public poison to oppose. What? Are you against disabled people? Do you want to discriminate against minorities? You’re a racist!
No, I believe businessmen should be free to make their own decisions, and must be left to live with the consequences of those decisions. Government should have no place in telling a business who its customers must be, can be, cannot be, or anything else. That’s the principle of freedom; and when it is curtailed in the slightest, the precedent is set to expand further regulation and tyranny. I realize this is a slippery slope argument and thus risks fallacy. But the historical precedent is there in these other programs, we know government always has the will to control further, and the language of this bill lends itself to further application. I think it is a legitimate slippery slope.
Fourth (I give you an added bonus reason), the law will have virtually little real impact on American society, for the problem with English literacy lies elsewhere that in the official functions of government and naturalization. The text of the bill says, for example, that “all citizens should be able to read and understand generally the English language text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws of the United States.” While this sounds like a good thing, it is really quite hypocritical. In this nation, yearly, we graduate millions of kids who have never and will never read the text of the Declaration or Constitution, let alone the U.S. Code. Many will not even have the level of literacy needed to read and understand these documents. (About 33 percent of people, by the way, never even read a single book once they’ve graduated high school. 80 percent never even purchase books.)
“All citizens” should be able to do this, eh? Of course! Well, of course, except those “graduating” from inner city public schools, and many other public schools. Many are routinely unable to read at a sixth grade level, but they are graduated anyway, and this law will not apply to them. We’ll hammer on the immigrants though. And while public schools drain billions of dollars and continue to fail, Republicans can pretend they’re saving American by harassing immigrants, many of whom probably work harder and are more productive than their teachers and the politicians combined.
In fact, I’ll bet most of those conservatives loudly complaining about having to press “2”, and about “If you move here you should speak the language” themselves have never read the Constitution or Declaration. And I would love to see the teachers collectively tested for whether they “understand generally” the text of these documents.
It would not hurt the politicians themselves, by the way, to “read and understand generally the English language text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the laws of the United States.” How much pain could be avoided by such a practice? We may safely assume no liberals will vote for this bill, for it would require that they themselves be able to read and understand the documents and the laws they pass. Many conservatives would fail here as well if they stopped to consider the fact. But they won’t, so they will most likely vote yes.
So there are three reasons plus one that every conservative, libertarian, Republican, Christian, and/or lover of freedom should oppose an attempt to dictate an official language for America. It contradicts the experience and intent of our founders which proves such a law unnecessary. It contradicts the philosophy and principles of freedom, and thus represents coercion and tyranny. And it set a dangerous precedent we should all wish to have removed from our horizon. In addition, it would be utterly pointless and hypocritical in the big picture today.
For all of these reasons and likely many more, the imposition of an official langue for America is distinctly un-American.