National, State Groups Pressing For English as Official Tongue
Opponents of bilingualism are intensifying their drive to change the United States Constitution and those of individual states to make English the country's official language.
The proposed amendments would ban the use of bilingual instruction in schools except as a temporary, transitional measure, and would prohibit the use of foreign languages for instruction in subject-matter courses like mathematics, social studies, and science.
Last month, Representative Norman D. Shumway, Republican of California, and Senator Steven D. Symms, Republican of Idaho, introduced the "English Language Amendment" (H.J. Res. 96; S.J. Res. 20) in the Congress. The joint resolution would make English the official language of the United States and empower the Congress to enforce the amendment through legislation.
Simultaneously, a group of citizens in Florida has begun a campaign to put an amendment on the November 1986 ballot that would make English the official language of that state. The Florida English Campaign has gathered more than 5,000 signatures to date and hopes to gather half a million signatures for its petition before the 1986 election, according to the group's chairman, Dr. Robert E. Melby. Legislation mirroring the petition has been introduced in the Florida legislature.
Both the federal and state proposals are backed by U.S. English, a national organization founded by former U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa in 1983 to promote English as the sole "official language" of the United States. Senator Hayakawa first proposed a federal Constitutional amendment to do so in 1981.
The organization's goals include adopting the Constitutional amendment; repealing laws that mandate multilingual ballots and voting ma-terials; restricting government funds for bilingual education to short-term transitional programs only; and universally enforcing the English-language and civics requirements for U.S. citizenship.
U.S. English now has more than 70,000 members, according to Steve W. Workings, the organization's government-relations associate. And with U.S. English's backing, Senator Hayakawa's bill has resurfaced in each recent session of the Congress. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, held hearings on the amendment for the first time last June. But he expressed strong reservations about meddling with the Constitution for such a purpose.
According to Mr. Workings, U.S. English is "pushing on all fronts," and will help to introduce "many other bills" similar to that in Florida in other states this year. He noted that the Texas legislature is already considering such a bill.
Last November, California voters banned bilingual voting ballots by a large majority.
Five states--Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia--now have amendments that recognize English as their state's official language, Mr. Workings added. But those amendments are recent and have not been put into practice, according to James Lyons, a lobbyist for the National Association for Bilingual Education.
Mr. Lyons, whose organization is opposed to such amendments, said that he does not think the federal proposals will succeed this year but said he would not be surprised if the Florida legislation is enacted.
"I think one would have to characterize the legislation itself as misdirected," he said. "The problem is not that people don't want to speak English; they don't know how. And our society seems to be unwilling to use the schools as they were used for European immigrants to bring the new Americans into our society."