Is English the official language of the State Capitol?

· Aug 30, 2001 Tweet

A so-called “English-only” policy was recently enforced in the Capitol, causing the resignation of Assembly page James Wilson.

Wilson resigned from his position after being reprimanded for speaking Spanish on the job.
Denise Solie, Assembly Sergeant-At-Arms, verbally informed Wilson that he was not to speak Spanish in the workplace. The second reprimand Solie made was in the form of a letter to Wilson.

The Capitol Times acquired a copy of the letter, in which Solie stated that Wilson should stop speaking to a co-worker in Spanish.

“This is a written warning,” Solie said. “Your actions are insubordination. Please speak English while on duty in our office.”

Solie pleaded with Wilson in the letter, saying that his co-workers were uncomfortable with his choice to speak in Spanish.

“You are welcome to speak Spanish (or French, or any other language) outside our office while on a break. But while you are here, for the sake of your co-workers, PLEASE speak English,” Solie said in the letter.

Wilson resigned via a letter to Solie that stated the offensive nature of the policy.

“It is highly offensive to me, as both an employee and scholar of foreign cultures, that you assume that my intentions are suspect, that my designs are to harass my co-workers, simply because you do not speak or comprehend Spanish,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson has degrees in foreign language and is a candidate for a PhD at Middlebury College in Vermont.

After Wilson’s resignation, Solie responded with another letter, also obtained by The Capitol Times.
In this letter, Solie denied the existence of any policy restricting the use of languages other than English.

“We do not have an ‘English-only’ policy in our workplace. Such a policy has never been discussed at the administrative level,” Solie wrote. “It has never been discussed with any of the full-time or part-time staff.”

According to The Capitol Times, Wilson’s coworker Ana Toalino was also reprimanded. Toalino declined to comment on the issue.

Denise Solie also declined to offer a statement.

Although Wilson did not directly contact the American Civil Liberties Union, the Wisconsin branch heard of the incident and took action.

The ACLU was concerned about the possibility of an English-only policy, worrying that this type of policy would violate civil rights and liberties.

“It might warrant a lawsuit on several issues; the policy is overly broad, and it may effect discrimination based on nationality,” Micabil Diaz-Martinez, legal director for the ACLU said.

In response, Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU Wisconsin division, sent a letter to Solie that stated the ALCU’s concern.

“The American Civil Liberties Union believes that English-only regulations, which broadly restrict the government’s ability to use other languages than English in communicating and delivering services to non-English speaking Americans, violate civil rights and liberties,” Ahmuty wrote.

The letter stated three ways in which English-only policies violate civil rights.

“… English-only regulations deny fair and equal access to government,” Ahmuty said.

He also stated that the policy violates First Amendment rights of elected officials and public employees.

The ACLU is concerned that English-only regulations will foster ill will toward those speaking languages other than English.

“English-only regulations are based on assumptions predicated on false and disparaging stereotypes about people who speak a foreign language,” Ahmuty said in the letter. “Thus, they foster bigotry and intolerance.”

Although it does not appear there will be any further action taken on the matter, the ACLU was concerned that such a policy could exist and declared their dedication to such issues.

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This article was published Aug 30, 2001 at 12:00 am and last updated Aug 30, 2001 at 12:00 am

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