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Carroll County adopts English as official language

By Bob Allen, Baltimore Sun Media Group

6:12 PM EST, January 24, 2013

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After nearly 45 minutes of often impassioned comment from those supporting or opposing a measure to make English the official language of Carroll County, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to enact the bill.

The ordinance prohibits departments and agencies of county government from conducting business, either written or verbal, in any language other than English.

"Throughout our history, we have had waves of immigrants coming to this country," said Commissioner Haven Shoemaker, who introduced the bill in September, "and they have all assimilated to use a common language, and I think that's why we've become the world's leading superpower."

Shoemaker said 31 states have laws or policies making English their official language. Two Maryland counties, Frederick and Queen Anne's, also have similar ordinances.

Previously Shoemaker had said the measure would save the county money, simplify county communications and "provide incentives to learn English to those living in Carroll County."

On Thursday, he added, "There's nothing wrong or illegal in making English the official language."

Before the vote, Judy Smith of Union Bridge told the commissioners that the bill is "something that most people consider to be not a good idea."

Amy McNichols, a professor at McDaniel College who lives in Westminster, said the bill sends "a very negative signal to those struggling to learn English."

"It takes a very long time, at least a couple of years, before someone [learning a new language] can carry on even a basic conversation," she said.

Bob Kurland, a supporter of the ordinance, invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his remarks, and criticized those who characterized supporters like himself as racists.

He said opposition to the bill was "a move by Democrats against Republicans."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said the bill "has nothing to do with discrimination" but merely "puts into law what the county has been doing by policy for years."

Frazier also rejected the notion that members of the board were projecting discrimination and noted that she has hosted foreign students in her home for years. "It's been a wonderful experience to have these different cultures in our house," she said.

But Commissioner Richard Rothschild said he'd spoken to educators who have told him multiculturalism makes it harder for them to educate students and "discourages assimilation."

"The multicultural movement in the United States has become the epitome of hypocrisy," said Rothschild, who also spoke against those who he said come to the United States with the purpose of "exploiting … a goodie bag of free public services."

Commissioner Doug Howard, who serves as president of the board, recalled that when the bill was first discussed, he felt there was not "a clear, discernible need."

He added that since then, he felt the meaning of the measure had been misconstrued, "not just by the press and some members of the public, but by [statements of] members of our own board."

"I hope that those supporting this effort are doing it for the right reason," Howard said before casting his vote. "Fears of other cultures and customs have not been our best moments in American history."