Is the U.S. Government Out to Undermine English?

Our friend Paul Weyrich at the Free Congress Foundation had a distressing story last week for anyone who is concerned about the future of the English language in our country.

It’s a story about a charity whose good works exemplify Christian-based dedication and compassion.

It’s a story about an employer who tried to do the right thing — to encourage its employees to learn and speak English.

And it’s a story of a misguided federal agency that is using taxpayers’ money to punish those who encourage English, rather than reinforcing English as the language of American success and cultural unity.

Government Lawyers Sue the Salvation Army for Requiring English

The Salvation Army operates thrift stores across the United States. In keeping with its mission to help the less fortunate, these stores both cater to lower income customers and often employ people who might have difficulty finding work elsewhere.

The Salvation Army has a policy that requires its employees to speak English on the job. In a 2003 opinion, a federal judge in Boston approved of the policy as a legitimate business practice. The next year, a Salvation Army store in Framingham, Mass., did what I think most of us would agree was the right thing to do: It gave two of its employees who spoke very little English a year to achieve a level of English proficiency required to do the job.

It’s important to note that the Salvation Army didn’t summarily fire these two employees. Quite the opposite. Counting the five years they had already worked there, the employees had a total of six years to learn English. But when they had failed to do so by 2005, they were let go.

That’s when the U.S. government sued.

That’s right. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a taxpayer-funded government commission, is suing the Salvation Army, a private, charitable, religious, non-profit group. The government is alleging that the Salvation Army discriminated against the two employees by requiring them to speak English on the job, thus inflicting “emotional pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, embarrassment, humiliation and inconvenience.”

Now ask yourself two things: Why is the government undermining the efforts of charities to encourage people to learn English? And doesn’t it have better things to do with our tax dollars?

The Department of Justice Also Undermines English

There’s another way the U.S. government is wasting our resources in order to undermine English in America: By filing lawsuits charging discrimination that no one has alleged, in order to protect voters who never asked for protection.

All of us are aware of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which gave Americans who had previously been illegitimately denied the right to vote the opportunity to participate in democratic self-government.

But as I’ve argued before in “Winning the Future,” the Voting Rights Act has been misapplied in recent years. One section, for example, requires something I have long advocated be repealed: the printing of foreign-language ballots. And the reason I advocate this is simple: If U.S. citizenship is a precondition for voting, and knowing English is a precondition for citizenship, then why would any citizen exercising his or her right to vote need a foreign-language ballot?

Bean Counting for Lawsuits

It turns out that, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) is monitoring a city or a county under the Voting Rights Act to see if foreign-language-speaking voters are getting the assistance they need to vote, they don’t wait for anyone to complain that they’re being discriminated against. They just comb through the voter registration lists, count the number of foreign-sounding names, and see if it matches up with the number of foreign-language-speaking poll workers. If the ratio of foreign-sounding names to foreign-language-speaking poll workers isn’t what the Department of Justice thinks it should be, they sue.

The DOJ filed just such a lawsuit against the town of Springfield, Mass. Not a single voter had complained of lack of access to the polls due to a lack of foreign-language assistance. Still, the government demanded that Springfield add more foreign-language-speaking poll workers in order to ensure that foreign-language-speaking voters “understand, learn of, and participate in all phases of the electoral process.”

The government sent federal workers to monitor the election, too. They counted 92 instances of foreign-language “voter assistance” — 92 out of more then 16,000 voters who went to the polls. And “voter assistance” is defined as someone saying anything in a language other then English, such as asking for a ballot or complaining about the weather.

The price tag for the taxpayers for the lawsuit? $435 per voter. And that’s just the federal tab.

As Edward Blum, writing in The Weekly Standard correctly put it (subscription required), “The Justice Department has embraced the legal tactics of a sue-happy plaintiff’s lawyer: dig through a jurisdiction’s election data looking for an improperly low number of bilingual poll workers, file a lawsuit, then muscle the local government into a consent decree and settlement — another scalp to add to the pile.”

Better Ways to Spend Our Tax Dollars

No legitimate American voter should be denied access to the polls. And no person should be discriminated against on the basis of his race or national origin at his place of work.

But don’t we want a federal government that reinforces English — not one that searches for lawsuits against learning and using English?

A far better — and more humane — use of our tax dollars would be for Congress to first make it clear that employers are permitted to require that English be spoken for legitimate business purposes while on the job, as long as the policy is clearly posted and known to employees before they are hired. Congress should also require that the DOJ receive a complaint before filing a lawsuit for alleged voter discrimination.

And then Congress should create a voucher program for adult immigrants to receive intensive English instruction. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has proposed such a program, which would allow immigrants who want to become citizens to meet their residency requirements in less time, thus giving them an incentive to learn English.

Allowing employers to require English on the job and insisting that English be the official language of government does not reject or undermine the importance of our heritage as a nation of immigrants. In Benjamin Franklin’s day, German was very widely spoken in Pennsylvania. In the 19th Century, Italian, Yiddish and Polish became common languages in many neighborhoods. Today, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and dozens more foreign languages are spoken by Americans who are proud of their heritage. Every American should be encouraged to learn a foreign language in order to better understand the world. Promoting English as the official language of government is part of supporting everyone’s having an equal opportunity to pursue happiness and prosperity.

As you have heard me say many times before, English is the language of American success and cultural unity. Americans, new and old, deserve nothing less than a government that seeks to protect and preserve English, to defend the need for employers to require English on the job and to help those who want assistance in learning English.

That would be a story we’d all like to hear.

Your friend,

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — In France, as in the United States, real change requires real change. Republicans and conservatives should keep their eyes on the French presidential election over the next week. The conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, is running as the candidate of real change, even though he has been serving in the current president’s cabinet. The Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal, who advocates marginal change has been weakened by a general sense that her “stand pat” policies would ruin the French economy. As reported by the Financial Times, Nicolas Sarkozy, the neo-Gaullist, is attacking the left wing, calling them “heirs of May 1968,” and blames them for France’s “moral crisis,” including “violent crime, rebellious youth, lazy benefit claimants, uncontrolled immigration and corrupt company bosses”.

Sarkozy is positioning himself as the “candidate of the people” and listed his values as “justice, effort, work, merit and reward.” A Sarkozy victory would represent a dramatic break from the status quo and would furnish a model for a possible Republican 2008 victory, just as Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 victory was the forerunner to Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. I’ll discuss more about this election in my next newsletter when the results are in from Sunday’s election.

P.P.S. — I will be doing our first ever telephone town hall meeting on American Civilization, Citizenship and English next Saturday. After the town hall meeting, you will be able to listen to it at Next week, I will report to you on how that experiment in a telephone dialogue about national issues worked.

P.P.P.S. — Remember the launch date for my new novel, Pearl Harbor, is rapidly approaching. It will be available in bookstores on May 14, but you can pre-order it now at

You can also click here to see if I will be signing books at a store near you.