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Judge Rejects Ariz. Amendment Making English Official Language

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An amendment to the Arizona constitution establishing English as the state's official language violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of free speech, a federal judge ruled last week.

Official-English advocates said it was the first time a federal judge had struck down a state law declaring an official language.

In a 21-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt said the amendment was overly broad and violated the free-speech rights of government employees, whom it required to speak English as a condition of employment.

Gov. Rose P. Mofford said the state would not appeal the decision. She described the official-English amendment--which voters approved by a 1 percent margin in 1988--as "flawed from the beginning."

The judge's decision was hailed by many Hispanic organizations and other groups that have opposed official-English laws in Arizona and 16 other states.

But Yale Newman, director of research and communications for U.S. English, an umbrella organization that is seeking to have English declared the official language of the United States, said "it's a bad decision, and we are going to do what we can to overturn it."

The chief plaintiff in the case was Maria-Kelly F. Yniguez, an employee in the state department of administration who wanted to speak Spanish to the public without fear of retribution.

Judge Rosenblatt ruled that the official-English amendment,"when read in its full literal breadth," forced many state officials and employees who wished to communicate with speakers of other languages "to either violate their sworn oaths to obey the state constitution, and thereby subject themselves to potential sanctions and private suits, or to curtail their free-speech rights."

--p.s.

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