[lg policy] You Don’t (Always) Have A Right To Speak Spanish
haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri May 11 11:52:21 EDT 2018
You Don’t (Always) Have A Right To Speak Spanish – OpEd
May 11, 2018
MISES <https://www.eurasiareview.com/author/mises/> 0 Comments
By MISES <https://www.eurasiareview.com/author/mises/>
By Ryan McMaken*
The Associated Press reported last week that the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing the Albertsons grocery store chain
federal court over limits placed on employees as to when they may speak
Spanish on the job.
The specifics of the case are less clear-cut than the headlines suggests.
The lawsuit alleges that the company adopted a stance in which management
“suggested … it’s best if workers refrain from speaking Spanish in front of
workers who do not speak the language.”
The EEOC alleges, however, that this admittedly flexible policy was
enforced too aggressively and applied only to employees of Hispanic origin.
In other words, the real problem, according to the EEOC, is that a hostile
work environment was created for a certain subset of Spanish speakers. It’s
not really a case of a blanket prohibition on Spanish.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Albertsons *did* impose a
blanket “no Spanish” policy on employees.
That assumption, after all, seems to already be driving numerous articles
in the media. Tucker Carlson, for example
has used the Albertsons suit as an occasion to advocate for a mandated
national official language in the United States. Apparently unaware that
Switzerland exists (with its four official languages), Carlson maintains
that any country without a single official language will be torn asunder by
civil strife. (Carlson also ignores the fact that the US has a long history
of linguistic diversity
and ten percent of the US population in 1920 reported a “mother tongue”
other than English
At the other end of the spectrum is Raul Reyes’s article in *The Hill*
is mostly just a pro-immigration article, but which states: “Speaking
whatever language we choose is one of the hallmarks of our democratic, free
society…Our country gives people the freedom and right to speak whatever
language they choose.”
But do people really have a “right” to choose the language they use?
Well, as Murray Rothbard points out, that* depends on the situation*.
Specifically, it depends on whether the person in question is on his own
property or not, and whether or not he acts with the approval of the owner.
In *Man Economy and State*, Rothbard explained how “freedom of speech”
cannot be separated from property rights:
Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever
he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this
right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is
trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or
on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental
contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such
thing as a separate “right to free speech”; there is only a man’s property
right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary
agreements with other property owners.
This is fairly easy to apply to the specific situation of speaking Spanish
(or any language). Obviously, in a Spanish-speaker’s own home, or in his
own business, he ought to free to say anything he wishes, and *in any
language* he wishes.
In short, a person does not have a “right to freedom of speech”; what he
*does* have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter
the premises. He does not have a “right to freedom of the press”; what he
*does *have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that
pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those
who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is
property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which
form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra “right of free
speech” or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in
any given case.
The same relationship between property and the rights like “the freedom of
speech” applies to the use of foreign languages as well. A person has a
right to produce a lecture, publication, or broadcast and distribute it to
anyone else who would like to read, hear or watch the media in question.
If we apply this to the situation of employees speaking Spanish at an
Albertsons store, the solution is clear: an employee on duty has a right to
speak any language the employer agrees to. The same would be true of
customers as well, since an owner may also limit what customers do on the
In practice, of course, badgering either employees or customers about what
language they use is terrible for business and for employee morale. In most
situations, multi-lingual employees are an asset, not a liability. And it’s
not a great idea to turn away potential customers who happen to prefer
using other languages.
Predictably, the media has attempted to turn the controversy into a battle
of ideologies over immigration, religion, culture, and ethnic origin. We’ve
seen this sort of thing before.
In 2014, when Hobby Lobby sued in federal court over the right to contract
freely with employees on the matter of health insurance, many leftwing
activists labeled the conflict as one between an alleged “right” to
healthcare and the reactionary forces of “theocracy” and religious dogma
In truth, it was simply a case of an employer wanting freedom over how to
compensate workers who freely consented to employment.
Similarly, in 2015 the fight over whether or not shopkeepers can decide for
whom they might want to bake a cake
the defenders of private property were once again denounced as religious
In both cases, the real heart of the matter was simply one of ordinary
property rights in which consenting adults ought to be free to enter into
agreements — and in which no person can force another person to use his own
body or other property in a way he or she doesn’t want to.
Nevertheless, the conflict is being framed as one in which workers from a
certain ethnic group are being targeted by bigots. The response from some
on the other side has been to attempt to devalue the use of foreign
languages altogether and to even frame them, as Carlson is doing, as a
threat to American domestic peace.
The Albertsons conflict, however, won’t be fixed by implementing “official
languages” or by threatening federal lawsuits at any employer who requests
only certain languages be spoken in the break room.
Indeed, there is no reason for any sort of government policy on the matter
whatsoever. In the real world, depending on location, ownership, and the
customer base, some employers will be quite open to the use of foreign
languages. And some will be less so. In those places where consumers often
use Spanish, for instance, employees who also speak Spanish will be more
valuable than mono-lingual employees. In all cases, of course, owners and
employers will have an incentive to accommodate foreign-language-speaking
But in each case, it must be up to the property owners to determine the
best way to do this.
Yes, there will always be some emotionally fragile oddballs who feel
“offended” or “threatened” by hearing a foreign language spoken within
earshot. And it’s unfortunate that such people revel in being poorly
educated and unable to comprehend foreign tongues.
Nevertheless, it must be up to shopkeepers, employers, entrepreneurs,
homeowners, landlords, and other private owners who determine what sorts of
speech are allowed on their premises — and what languages may be spoken
*About the author:*
* *Ryan McMaken* (@ryanmcmaken <https://twitter.com/ryanmcmaken>) is the
editor of *Mises Wire* and *The Austrian
Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines
Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of
Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from
2009 to 2014. He is the author of *Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the
Nation-State in the Western Genre.*
This article was published by the MISES Institute
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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