WASHINGTON -- The House opened debate yesterday on several measures that would make English the nation's official language, an initiative that promises to face a bumpy road in Congress.
All the proposals stress the need for an official national language as a "common bond" or "glue" to "hold the nation together" and assert that a "multilingual government" perpetuates a socially divisive society.
The bill with the most co-sponsors, introduced by Rep. Bill Emerson, a Missouri Republican, and Sen. Richard C. Shelby, an Alabama Republican, would not affect federal bilingual education programs, as some other bills would. But it would require the use of English in all functions of the U.S. government, such as the printing of documents.
The Emerson-Shelby bill would, however, exempt services dealing with health and the justice system from any official English-language requirement.
The Republican members of a House education subcommittee, many of whom did not attend the hearing, seemed careful not to endorse the idea of a national language.
Democrats appeared unanimous in opposition, questioning the motivation and the necessity of the proposals.
Twenty-two states have legislation requiring English as their official language. Last year in Maryland, Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed a version of an official English bill. Gov. Parris N. Glendening threatened to do the same in May.