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Jewish World Review Jan. 28 , 2002/15 Shevat, 5762

Don Feder

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U.S. courts language balkanization -- IN Patterson, N.J., English on the job was thrown out of court.

The New York Times gleefully reported on the rout of an attempt to get court workers to speak the common tongue ("Mayor Rescinds Judge's English-Only Directive"). Earlier this month, Judge Karole Graves of the Paterson city court issued the following directive: "Please be advised that all employees are to speak English while you are at your work stations. Other languages are only to be spoken when translating or assisting customers."

The judge acted after an employee complained, because she thought co-workers were talking about her in Spanish. A deputy court administrator told a local newspaper: "There are a bunch of girls that, when they huddle together, just speak Spanish. It's very distracting."

However -- with an eye to the local Latino vote -- Mayor Martin Barnes reversed Graves. "I don't know what happened or why it happened, but it's something we're not going to enforce," his honor harrumphed.

The mayor professed to be at a loss to understand why a judge would want court workers to speak the language in which our laws are written and justice is administered. Lawrence S. Lustberg, a civil liberties lawyer, says Graves' order was "racist and inflexible, and extremely disturbing."

Expecting immigrants to learn the language of their adopted land is akin to a cross-burning? Asking employees to help create a congenial environment by communicating in a language everyone understands is "inflexible"?

Lustberg is part of a chorus on the left. The National Education Association says English only "promotes divisiveness and hostility toward those whose first language is not English."

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) calls it -- what else? -- "linguistic racism." Interestingly, in its 1929 constitution, the league acknowledged its members had a civic duty "to foster the acquisition and facilitate the use of the official language of our country." That was before LULAC became an organization of ethnic grudge-bearers.

With bilingual education, multilingual ballots, drivers license exams in everything from Albanian to Vietnamese and mandated translation services, we make it so easy for the foreign-born to avoid learning English.

The result should surprise no one. According to the Census Bureau, almost half of all New York City residents speak a language other than English at home. Nationally, 45 million don't speak English in their homes -- including 14 million native-born.

Across the nation, there are enclaves of language alienation. When a Ukrainian immigrant murdered his family last fall, the police investigation was hampered by the fact that most Ukrainians in Citrus Heights, Calif., speak only Russian or Ukrainian. In Columbus, Ohio, police carry language-identification booklets, so they'll know which translator to call for the 30 to 40 language groups in central Ohio. Los Angeles County employs 420 full-time court interpreters. Each is paid $265 a day.

As a parting present to multiculturalism, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, which mandates that every recipient of federal funding become a multi-language service provider. The Bush administration isn't eager to enforce the order, but won't repeal it.

Most Americans would fight to preserve English -- if they could only find a leader. Currently, 24 states have laws requiring that government business be conducted in English. Several were enacted by ballot, including California (with 73 percent of the vote) and Florida (84 percent). Seemingly every day, another group springs up to champion the cause. The more active include English First, Pro-English and U.S. English.

But here, as elsewhere, it's the people vs. the culture. Ethnic lobbies, liberal elites and the political establishment tell language separatists they have a constitutional right to converse in their language of choice -- that they should learn English only if they feel like it, speak English only when and where they choose.

"United We Stand," proclaimed the post-Sept. 11 signs. What unites a people more than a common tongue? We can yack all we want about unity, but there are powerful forces working to fragment us in the name of equality and inclusion.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate