Alaska English as Official Language, Measure 6 (1998)
The Alaska English as Official Language Initiative, also known as Measure 6, was on the November 3, 1998 ballot in Alaska as an indirect initiated state statute, where it was approved. The measure required the state to "use English in all government functions and actions."
|Alaska Measure 6 (1998)|
Election results via: Alaska Department of Elections
Text of measure
The language appeared on the ballot as:
|“||This bill requires the state to use English in all government functions and actions. State records must be in English. "The state" means the legislature, all state agencies, local governments, school districts, public corporations and the university. Those entities may use non-English languages for international trade, emergencies, teaching languages, court suits, criminal inquiries, for elected officials to talk to constituents or to comply with federal law. Costs of non-English records must be identified. Persons who speak only English may not be denied state jobs or services. The bill does not affect private sector use of non-English languages.
SHOULD THIS AMENDMENT BE ADOPTED?
Edgar Paul Boyko of Alaskans for a Common Language wrote an argument in support of the measure in the state's official voter guide:
|“|| A common language is common sense. That is why you should vote YES on Ballot Measure 6 to make English the official language of Alaska government.
This initiative has been overwhelmingly supported by Alaskans from all 40 voting districts and from all cultures, religions, and political parties.
Your fellow Alaskans support this bill because they know it makes sense. First, as our state population is becoming more diverse, this bill will help keep Alaskans unified by a common language. Second, in the Alaska tradition of limited government, this bill will prevent the increased bureaucracy and costs due to offering documents and services in multiple languages.
Opponents will try to scare you with misrepresentations and lies about what this bill does. Our response is simple: Read the actual text of Ballot Measure 6. You will see that it is a limit only on the government. Private citizens will still be able to use any language they want, anywhere, at any time.
Everyone agrees Alaska Native languages must be preserved and protected, so this bill has a specific exception for the Native American Languages Act. No matter what opponents say, this bill will have no impact on public or private use of Alaska Native languages!
The bill also has commonsense exceptions for things like public health and safety, police work, international trade, and the teaching of foreign languages.
There are 105 languages spoken in Alaska homes. Our diversity can be a strength, but only if we have one common language so everyone can talk to everyone else. Learning English empowers people to get better jobs and to integrate into Alaskan society. Mastery of English helps immigrants increase their incomes by 30%. We need to help people learn English, not discourage them.
As Americans and Alaskans, we share a commitment to democracy, equality, and freedom. But that shared commitment is only possible if we have a common language that allows us to talk to each other. Like our flag, the pledge of allegiance, and our national anthem, English as our official language is a symbol. These symbols remind Americans and Alaskans of every race, religion, and background of what we all have in common.
We Alaskans pride ourselves on common sense. We know, for example, that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Right now our state government uses English most of the time. By making English the official language, we make sure that Alaska will not end up like California, where they offer driver's license exams in 33 languages. Other states may offer routine documents and services in dozens of languages, but that does not make sense for Alaska.
Please join your fellow citizens in voting YES on Ballot Measure 6. Remember that English unifies our state, and this bill will prevent future problems. For Alaska, a common language is common sense.
—Edgar Paul Boyko
Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote an argument in opposition to the measure in the state's official voter guide:
|“|| Proponents of Ballot Measure #6 would have you believe that this law proclaiming English to be the "official language" of Alaska is as harmless as proclaiming the bald eagle to be the official bird of the United States. Don't be fooled! This law will have severe consequences for the many non-English speaking residents and citizens of Alaska.
1.) The proposed English-Only law does NOT protect Native languages. Although the proponents would have you believe that the Native American Languages Act protects Alaska Native languages from this English-Only law, that is incorrect. The courts have held that the Native American Languages Act is not enforceable against state and local governments. If Ballot Measure #6 passes, the business of local government, such as city council and school board meetings, in many Native villages would have to be conducted in English rather than in the local language which is easily comprehended by all.
2.) There is no need for an English-Only law in Alaska. For all practical purposes, English already is the common language in Alaska. This proposed English-Only law merely fosters divisiveness by saying to our indigenous and non-English speaking residents that they are not accepted in Alaska, even though many non-English languages and cultures predate English. The key to unity in Alaska is not to punish persons with either limited or no English proficiency by effectively precluding them from receiving essential government services and denying them access to the political process. The way this law is drafted, if a non-English speaking resident calls a government agency on the phone or goes into a government building seeking assistance, the government employees who greet this individual are prohibited from communicating in any language other than English even when they know the other language. This English-Only law will have the undesirable effect of making government less efficient and less responsive to the needs of Alaskans.
3.) The proposed English-Only law is based on unfair and inaccurate stereotypes of immigrants and indigenous peoples. This law falsely presumes that today's immigrants are not learning English and thus threaten the primacy of English as our common language. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today's immigrants are striving to learn English as quickly as possible in order to acquire citizenship, succeed in business or succeed academically. Classes in English as a second language are over-subscribed and have long waiting lists. If anything, we should increase funding for classes to teach English rather than pass punitive laws which would in effect bar non-English speakers from receiving many services to which they are entitled.
4.) The proposed English-Only law is unconstitutional. This law violates Alaskans' constitutional rights to speak in the language of their choice and to petition their government for redress of grievances. Furthermore, this law violates Alaskans' constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.
Vote NO on Ballot Measure #6. The bond that unites our nation and our state is not linguistic or ethnic homogeneity but rather a shared commitment to democracy, liberty, equality, and tolerance.
Path to the ballot
- Application was received in the Lieutenant Governor's Office on September 3, 1997.
- A copy of the application and signatures were sent to the Department of Law and Division of Elections on September 3, 1997.
- The Division of Elections determined that there were a sufficient number of sponsor signatures on September 5, 1997.
- The application was certified on September 8, 1997.
- Petition booklets were issued to the initiative committee on September 12, 1997.
- The one year filing deadline was September 12, 1998.
- Petition booklets were submitted to the Division of Elections on January 8, 1998.
- Lieutenant Governor Ulmer certified the petition for this initiative as properly filed on February 17, 1998.
- The initiative appeared on the 1998 general election ballot.
- Alaska Department of Elections, "1998 Official Election Pamphlet: Ballot Measures," accessed February 5, 2015
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
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