Federal Role Questioned in English Debate
By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma's congressional delegation and state Legislature are asking the U.S. Justice Department to explain why it got involved in a debate by state lawmakers over making English the state's official language.
The Legislature approved a resolution in May to allow voters to declare that English is Oklahoma's common and unifying language and that all official state actions must be conducted in English. It would bar lawsuits to have state services provided in languages other than English.
State Rep. Randy Terrill wrote the legislation that would require the state to use only English when conducting state business. But in the letter from the federal government the Justice Department has a warning for Oklahoma.
"A warning that some federal funding might be at risk if this version of the English only bill were to become law," said Charlie Price, Oklahoma Attorney General's Officer Spokesperson.
Rep. Terrill said he thinks the federal government's letter crossed the line.
"The DOJ's actions were an unjustified and unwarranted intrusion into the sovereign affairs of our state government. States are not mere administrative arms of the federal government and the people of Oklahoma will not submit to blackmail and extortion," Terrill said.
Oklahoma's congressional delegation is also reacting strongly. Tuesday, all seven members signed a letter to the U.S. Attorney General asking for an explanation as to why the department got involved.
"It's a bluff and there's no justification for him to make that threat. We have called his bluff by the way," said U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe.
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was in Oklahoma City on business and said he thinks the legislation should be up to the people of Oklahoma.
"I'm just saying, anything in my judgement as I sit here as a private citizen that the people of Oklahoma chose to do within the law is up to them. I'm not going to try to tell them what to do," Ashcroft said.
Thirty other states have already passed English only legislation. Senator Inhofe said to his knowledge Oklahoma is the only one that received a letter from the Department of Justice.
"What we do in Oklahoma is our business and we're going to make sure it stays that way," Inhofe said.
The question is expected to be on the 2010 general election ballot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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