English as the Official Language

Case Type:



Approximately 15% of Springfield residents are non-native speakers of English; about a third of these speak little functional English at all. The Springfield city council is concerned about maintaining civic unity in the face of this diversity, and is considering whether to pass an ordinance making English the official language. The draft ordinance requires:

  • that all instruction in public schools be in English, provided that non-native speaking children may have a two year transition period of bilingual education;
  • that all governmental business be conducted in English;
  • that all signs in all public places be predominantly in English, ("predominantly" defined as containing English expressions at least twice the size of any non-English expressions);
  • that all business or commercial enterprises employing over fifty people conduct business in English;
  • that all websites on servers in Springfield must be predominantly in English.


You, the City Attorney: the City Council has asked you to determine whether the proposed ordinance is constitutional.


The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an official language case, Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, on procedural grounds. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, however, had previously spoken out on the constitutional issue. And in April, 1998, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the very broad Arizona English law was unconstitional, in part for violating the first amendment (decision here in pdf format).

Anti-Official Language:
  • American Civil Liberties Union position
  • National Education Association position
Pro-Official Language:

The Springfield ordinance is modelled after the Quebec language laws, enforced by L'Office de la langue française. The Electronic Frontier Canada website reports recent controversies over imposing the language laws to websites.


Up to you.


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Copyright © 1998 Jean Goodwin. All rights reserved.
Last updated 10 March 1999
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