Unlike European countries, the United States has no official language. This has not stopped, however, 32 states in the Union to adopt English as their official language. Michigan could become the next. Introduced by state Rep. Tom Barrett, a Republican from Potterville, House Bill 4053 would establish English as the official language of Michigan for all official records.
However, the bill will allow the state government to use languages other than English to communicate with residents. The bill makes clear that doing so is not mandatory. "I think that there should be an expectation that people have if you go to a government proceeding... that it would be provided in English," Barrett said. He said there were some areas where multiple languages were already available, including the state’s test to obtain a driver's' license. Other exceptions as to language would be public safety, teaching English as a second language, and the promoting of Michigan as a vacation spot to foreigners. Agencies would still be allowed to print materials in languages other than English.
Speaking for Democrats, Rep. Christine Greig of Farmington Hills -- a wealthy suburb of Detroit in Oakland County -- finds the measure is questionable. The schools in the district she represents, Greig said, feature some 80 languages. Claiming that she has received no complaints from constituents about services provided in non-English languages, she said, "It seems like it's working just fine and it's unnecessary legislation."
Currently, the office of Michigan’s Secretary of State offers driver’s licence tests in English and 13 other languages, including Spanish and Arabic. Drivers are required to have the ability to read and understand English-language road signs.
Rep. Barrett wants to clarify with the bill that Michigan is not required to expand the number of languages offered for the tests to suit future applicants. “I think we should have that discretionary capability," Barrett said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has submitted written testimony on its objections. ACLU Michigan Policy Counsel Kimberly Buddin wrote, "A declaration of English as the official language of the State of Michigan is inconsistent with the free speech protections of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embodies a spirit of tolerance and diversity embodied in the federal Constitution."
House Bill 4053 was reported out of committee last week. Two Democrats on the committee abstained. Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing, wherein lies Michigan State University, leads Democrats in the state House and has offered amendments. One would include the Ojibwe language of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people who resided in Michigan before the arrival of European explorers and settlers. The other amendment would cite the widely used Gregorian calendar as Michigan’s official calendar. Both amendments failed in what Singh said was merely an effort to draw attention to “political games” on the part of Republicans.
The bill will go to the full House for a vote. Thereafter, it goes to Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, for signature.
Michigan is home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslims, and Arabic-speakers, in the United States.