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Nashville English language ordinance unnecessarily divisive

A. Gregory Ramos [North, Pursell, Ramos & Jameson PLC; Nashville For All]: "On February 6 in Nashville, TN, the Metropolitan Council, the legislative body for Nashville and Davidson County, TN ("Metro Council"), passed a controversial and much debated English language ordinance. The announced purpose of this ordinance, according to its sponsor, is to prohibit certain Metro government communications from being translated or interpreted into languages other than English.

The ordinance itself is not about the importance of the English language. On the contrary, virtually everyone, including those critical of the ordinance, agrees that it is very important for the residents of Nashville to be able to communicate effectively in English, the common and unifying language of this country. Learning the English language however, especially for adults, is a gradual process that requires time and patience. There is no empirical evidence to show that an English language ordinance, such as the one passed in Nashville on February 6, hastens or even assists this gradual process. Additionally, on January 16 the Metro Council itself, by way of a resolution (Resolution No. RS2007-1724) as opposed to an ordinance, formally reaffirmed the significance of English to Nashville's culture. During debate on the resolution, the members of the Metro Council learned that Nashville immigrants are eager to learn English but often have little access to formal learning opportunities. Community English classes have waiting lists and backlogs, and unfortunately, the English language ordinance does absolutely nothing to address this situation.

During the debate and in response to the English language ordinance that ultimately was passed on February 6, Nashville For All was formed. Nashville For All is a broad coalition of groups that values Nashville's reputation as diverse, friendly and welcoming, and believes Nashville residents benefit greatly from the city's growing prominence as the International City of the South. Nashville For All strongly believes the English language ordinance is unnecessarily divisive, has limited practical significance and enforceability, and will have the unfortunate effect of erecting artificial and symbolic barriers for the city's international residents and guests. Additionally, the English language ordinance broadcasts to the world that the Metro Council for Nashville and Davidson County does not value the contributions of its newest residents and supports a policy of exclusion. Nashville For All believes the English language ordinance is bad for business, economic development, local government, and the community."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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