2 min read
Posted on 10.21.08
  • 2 min read
  • Posted on 10.21.08

Amendment 1 will change the state’s constitution by adding an unequivocal statement that English must be the language of all governmental meetings at which any public business is discussed or decided.

Amendment 1 applies to all public meetings, so Alderman Steve Gregali probably couldn’t use his rudimentary Bosnian language skills to discuss planned emergency responses to earthquakes with grandmothers in the 14th ward; and Chief Dan Isom might not be able to dispatch a multi-lingual police officer to a commercial district meeting to talk about neighborhood safety issues along South Grand - even though common sense suggests that these would be reasonable exceptions to an existing state law naming English the language of our governmental bodies.

In fact, Amendment 1 is broadly (badly?) enough written that someone could argue against every exception to it - and that is why I intend to vote against it.

The fear behind Amendment 1 is that newly arrived immigrants will not want to learn English and that America - and Missouri - will become places in which people no longer understand each other. I do not think that fear is well-founded.

Many St. Louisans are the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of immigrants - Poles, Germans, Italians, and others. Eventually, our grandparents learned English, as did their children . . . and us. Today, as then, some of our newest residents struggle with our language at first, but they learn it. And their children learn it faster. While the newest St. Louisans learn it, there seems to be no good reason - except meanness - to impose a constitutional ban against temporary accommodations in language that local and state governments might feel necessary to involve people more fully in public life.