Wednesday, June 1, 2011

City Council Overturns Racist "English Only" Law in Small New York Town

Last year, Councilman Roger Meyer of Jackson, New York, pushed through a very restrictive "English Only" law. The town's focus on making English the official language struck many outside of it as intriguing – foreign languages have not been an issue there. Its foreign-born population is 2.4 percent of the total community of about 1,800 people, far below that of the state, which is 20.4 percent.

Meyer concedes that the measure was more of a pre-emptive strike against what he sees as the "very likely presence sometime in the future of foreign-language speakers who would demand that government services be provided in their language."

“There might be a need in the future,” Meyer said, adding that language use in public services could become an issue “40 years from now.” ”I think it’s heading that way, people seem to be getting more separated,” he said.

You can once again conduct Jackson town business in Spanish, Italian, or any other native tongue. The Town Board voted Wednesday evening to repeal its restrictive English language-only law by a 4-1 vote. It ends a year of notoriety for the community that drew criticism from across the country and resulted in a threatening letter from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who warned the town that the law was illegal because it was too discriminatory.

About two dozen local residents and a representative from the New York Civil Liberties Union attended the meeting, held in this Washington County community's town hall, a former one room schoolhouse. A number of town residents have been fighting the law since it was first proposed by board member Roger Meyer about a year ago.

"It sends an unwelcoming message about who we are, both to our community and to the greater community beyond Jackson," resident Peg Winship said before the board vote. "It also puts our town at financial risk because it is unlawfully discriminatory and unconstitutionally infringes on free speech and the right to access information about town government."

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