‘Speak English’ Isn’t So Simple

Janice Morse, Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 16

MASON—In the week since a state agency ruled that a small tavern’s “For Service Speak English” sign violated Ohio civil rights law, the agency has experienced an unprecedented backlash—and the bar has enjoyed an influx of new customers.

While the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s executive director says people have misinterpreted the ruling, the owner of the Pleasure Inn says the commission reached an unfair conclusion about his sign.

“People are getting themselves whipsawed into a frenzy over what this case is not about,” said G. Michael Payton, the commission’s executive director.

“This is not a referendum over English being the predominant language,” he said. “It’s plainly about a sign in a place of business that has a chilling effect on people who don’t speak English. The plain meaning of the sign would chill someone from coming in and using that establishment. It’s just a step away from earlier days when signs said, ‘No colored people.’”

While some people rationally debate the decision, others launched into hate-filled rants that Payton says reaffirm the reasons why the commission’s work is necessary.

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Pleasure Inn owner Tom Ullum, 63, of Lebanon, said he intends to fight the ruling, which could eventually force him to remove the sign, undergo diversity training or pay for anti-discrimination advertising.

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Ullum said he has received no complaints about the sign. In fact, he said, the controversy has been good for business.

He said one woman called to say, “We’ve been in Mason 18 years. We’ve never been in your bar, but we’re coming in to show support.”

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Payton said he welcomes discussion on the issue, but is concerned about racist and hate-filled comments that appeared in some of the 60 or more e-mails his office received.

“Rational dialog in the marketplace of ideas is as American as anything,” he said. “It’s one thing to reasonably disagree with us. But it’s another thing to be racist and say some of the vile things that have been said as a consequence of us rendering our opinion. It reminds us why we have an agency like this and reminds us why the work we do is needed very, very sorely.”

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