California: Hawthorne Backs Away From 'English First' Proposal

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jun 14 13:52:40 UTC 2006

>>From NBC 4
Hawthorne Backs Away From 'English First' Proposal

POSTED: 7:36 am PDT June 13, 2006

HAWTHORNE, Calif. -- The city of Hawthorne has quietly backed away from an
"English first" proposal that would have forced ethnic businesses to
translate any foreign language on their outdoor signs, it was reported on
Tuesday. The city drew national attention earlier this year when it began
exploring ways to ensure top billing for English on all signs. The main
sponsor of that idea, Councilwoman Ginny Lambert, said it would foster
understanding among all who travel through Hawthorne. But city attorneys
saw another possible outcome: a federal free-speech lawsuit, the Daily
Breeze reported.

At their urging, city leaders have agreed to strongly recommend -- but not
require -- that businesses include some English on their signs. "You know,
that's OK. I'll wait my time," Lambert told the newspaper. "One of these
days, it'll happen. It'll be English-only." Lambert first raised the idea
of an English law in late February after she noticed a sign written in a
language she didn't recognize outside a medical office, according to the
Breeze. It bothered her that the sign didn't communicate to anyone but
speakers of that language. She proposed making it city policy that all
signs be in English, with any foreign languages underneath. She offered to
exempt restaurants only.

Other cities have tried to regulate foreign-language signs. Some, like
Torrance, require stores to at least identify themselves in the Roman
alphabet most familiar to English speakers. The city of Pomona went
further and provided the case law that made attorneys in Hawthorne uneasy,
the Daily Breeze reported. In 1989, a Pomona law that required half of any
business sign be in English was struck down by a federal judge on grounds
that it violated the First Amendment.

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