Michael Cass, The Tennessean (Nashville), January 10, 2009
A coalition of groups representing African-Americans, immigrants and other Nashville residents spoke out Friday against the ballot initiative that would require Metro government to do business in English only.
At a news conference outside the Davidson County Election Commission, where early voting on the proposed charter amendment continues today, a series of speakers said the measure would make life harder for immigrants, hurt Nashville’s international image and violate Christian teachings.
The proposal would require all government communications and publications to be conducted in English, though the council could make specific exceptions for health and safety. “No person shall have a right to government services in any other language,” the proposal states.
“It doesn’t make sense socially, economically, spiritually, morally,” Councilwoman Erica Gilmore said. “We are a place of many nations and many people, and we should embrace that.”
Supporters say the change would encourage people to learn and use English; put the onus for language help on individuals, not government; and save the $100,000 or so Metro spends each year on translation and related services, though critics say federal law requires the city to spend most of that.
NAACP takes part
State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, a former councilwoman who is Erica Gilmore’s mother, said the passage of the charter amendment would look strange to the rest of the world after the election of Barack Obama, an African-American.
“We cannot afford to send a message that Nashville and Tennessee is out of step with the rest of the country,” she said.
Groups participating in the event included the Urban League, the NAACP, the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship and the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition.