At our central chapter’s annual meeting in June in State College, Rev. Warren Eshbach told a great story about how the Church of the Brethren came to colonial America. Rev. Eshbach is a prof at Elizabethtown College and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and as he told the story, when the church started in Europe, its members were persecuted, tortured, and even killed because they refused to follow the faith of the prince.
An American colonist named William Penn invited the members of the church to come to his colony to freely practice their faith.
In 2005, some members of the state House of Representatives would debase that legacy of welcoming immigrants to the Commonwealth. HB 2089 would designate english as the “official” language of PA and, thus, would rip out the welcome mat from under the feet of those who emigrate to the U.S. and choose PA as their home.
Here is the statement from Larry Frankel, ACLU-PA legislative director:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposes House Bill 2089, which seeks to establish English as the official language of the Commonwealth. We think that this legislation is unconstitutional, will lead to costly litigation, and will hurt Pennsylvania’s ability to attract innovative companies and good jobs.
A small number of other states have passed English only bills. Courts in three states – Alaska, Arizona and Oklahoma – have found these laws to be unconstitutional because they violate the free speech rights of citizens and state employees. There is no reason to think that Pennsylvania’s venture down this path will lead to a different result.
Passage of this legislation will lead to costly litigation. Even if it were deemed to be constitutional, there will be numerous lawsuits arising from arbitrary denial of governmental services to domestic violence victims and individuals needing police protection or health care because such individuals have limited English proficiency. Adopting English as the official language of the Commonwealth will not lead to a reduction in paperwork or the size of government. Rather, it will spawn a new generation of lawsuits over the enforcement of the law.
Finally, passage of this legislation will send a bad message to international businesses thinking of locating facilities here in Pennsylvania. Why would such companies want to be in a state where there is an official expression of hostility to people who don’t speak English? Why would such companies choose to come here when they could locate in another state, where the government is open to people who speak other languages? This bill will hurt Pennsylvania’s ability to create jobs.