English-Only Ordinance Stirs Up Controversy

There is new controversy around a hearing that considered repealing a 2012 ordinance that requires all official business, in Frederick County, to be conducted in English. This is Maryland's first county to institute an English-only ordinance. Now, newly elected officials say it was a mistake. One resident said “It’s a wrong message. You might as well post a sign that says non-English speaking people are not welcome here. Why are we doing this?” Barbara Gordon said “It makes us look intolerant, unwelcoming and petty." As a result, two of the five new County Council members are attempting to repeal the measure. Jessica Fitzwater and M.C. Keegan-Ayer say the ordinance is ineffective, sends a message of intolerance and is bad for business.

They introduced the bill to repeal the ordinance in June. Keegan-Ayer argued “We have a new government and we’re going to set a different tone." Fitzwater also stated “It’s becoming increasingly harder to attract businesses and employers to Frederick County when they have this perception that we’re not welcoming or we’re only welcoming if English is your first language." On the other hand, groups such as ProEnglish called the councilwomen “liberal multiculturists” and “politically correct bullies” in fundraising letters they mailed out. Some residents agree with the English-only ordinance. In June Fitzwater said “This ordinance accomplished nothing of material substance.”

According to 2010 census data, 5.8 percent of the population of Frederick is Asian American and 14.4 percent is Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics are the fastest growing race group in the city and county. Jorge Ribas, the president and CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “We all speak English in our chamber. We’re all for English, but I think mono-literacy is the worst thing that can happen to the United States in a global economy.”

Photo: Bill Ryan/The Gazette

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