This Is America, Speak Spanish

Michael M. Bates, Enter Stage Right, December 10, 2007

I find it annoying to call a telephone number and have to press 1 to proceed in English. It seems to me that our national language should routinely be used and callers wishing an alternative should be the ones to select a number.

We’ve come very far from the sentiment of Teddy Roosevelt, who believed, “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.” That’s not politically correct by today’s standards and the U.S. government explicitly disdains such views. A model of current official thinking is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s tormenting of the Salvation Army for setting up an English-only policy for its workers.

In Massachusetts, the Salvation Army gave all employees one year in which to learn English and speak it while on the job. Two people who sorted clothes for the agency refused and were terminated.

Enter the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Deciding that the Salvation Army’s action had embarrassed, humiliated, inconvenienced and inflicted emotional pain on the fired employees, last April the EEOC sued the Christian organization for back pay, damages and an end its “discriminatory rules.”

The EEOC asserts that an employer can impose an English-only rule solely when it’s necessary for conducting business. According to the agency, otherwise mandating that employees speak English on the job constitutes national origin discrimination.

Spanish, which was spoken by the former clothes sorters, is in this instance a language, not a national origin. That detail hasn’t slowed down the EEOC in its godly mission.

Requiring workers in the U.S. to speak English isn’t discriminatory. It’s common sense. We have a common language and English is it. Being able to communicate with the boss, with one’s co-workers, with customers, and with the police and other emergency workers isn’t an unreasonable expectation for most employees.

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Our common language is a basis of our cultural unity. It’s far from the only language spoken in the United States, but certainly it’s the primary one. For folks wishing to advance here, knowledge of it is essential. We do immigrants no favors by bending over backwards trying to accommodate them in their native language, hindering their adapting to a new culture.

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