by Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A state lawmaker is having a bill drafted for the 2011 legislative session to make English the official language of Nevada, saying his intent is to unify rather than divide the state’s diverse residents.
Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said he is still researching the issue, but that his bill will be symbolic rather than seek to have any practical effect on the delivery of government services. It is not an English-only bill, but instead a recognition that English is the common language of the state and country, he said.
Stewart introduced a similar bill in the 2009 session but it did not receive a hearing.
“We have many different cultures and many people from different lands but I think that the English language is one thing that should be common to all of us and bring us all together,” he said. “Some people have criticized it as being divisive but that is certainly not my intent. It is to be a unifying thing.”
Many other states across the country have already adopted similar measures so it is not unique to Nevada, Stewart said.
The U.S. English website lists 30 states with “official English” laws.
Oklahoma voters will weigh in on the issue on the November ballot. The measure would go further than what Stewart is proposing in Nevada. It would require all official actions of the state to be in English except as required by federal law.
Despite Stewart’s intent, the ACLU of Nevada opposes such legislation and will oppose Stewart’s measure even if it is symbolic only.
“We think they are generally inconsistent with the free speech protections of the First Amendment,” said Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the organization. “And perhaps more importantly they may impact or conflict with civil rights laws that require equal access to critical government services regardless of national origin.”
Rowland said such laws can intimidate non-English speakers from seeking government assistance, including police and fire, even if they are symbolic only, she said. These concerns were reflected in comments during a debate about an English-only ordinance in Pahrump, Rowland said.
“Often these laws simply have a kind of scare tactic effect,” she said.
The Pahrump Town Board passed the ordinance in November 2006 but repealed it early the following year.
Assemblyman Lynn Stewart says his official English bill is meant to unite Nevadans:
Stewart says the proposal is not intended to be divisive:
Stewart says many other states have adopted such laws:
Lee Rowland of ACLU says English-only bills can conflict with federal civil rights laws:
Rowland says such measures cause problems even if they are only symbolic: