Bill Would Make English 'Official' U.S. Language

Would Also Require English Comprehension for Naturalization

US Naturalization Ceremony
Naturalization Ceremony Held For Thousands Of Immigrants. David McNew/Getty Images

Should the United States, the world's ethnic melting pot, have a single "official" language?

Should immigrants seeking U.S. citizen be required to read and understand that language?

And, if so, should that language be the English language?

An "official" U.S. language is an idea that's been kicked around Congress before and has now been revived in the form of H.R. 997 -- The English Language Unity Act of 2005.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa, 5th), H.R. 997 has garnered 118 co-sponsors, making it one of the most widely supported bills before the 109th Congress.

The English Language Unity Act of 2005  would establish English as the official language of the United States, and would:

  • Require that all official functions and proceedings of federal and state government be conducted in English, including, "all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs and policies."
     
  • Require that applicants for naturalization be tested on their ability to read and generally understand the English language, including the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Exceptions would be allowed in cases of asylum.
     
  • Require that all naturalization ceremonies be conducted in English.
     
  • Allow persons injured by violations of the Act to file suits in civil courts.
     

The English Language Unity Act of 2005 must be approved by the House Judiciary, and Education and the Workforce Committees before it can be considered by the full House.

In 1996, a similar bill, "The Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act," was passed by the House of Representative by a vote of 259-169. While the Republican-backed bill won the votes of 36 Democrats in the House, the Senate failed to debate the bill before the end of the session.

As of June 2005, legislation similar to The English Language Unity Act of 2005 had been adopted by 27 states.

Over the last six years, Alaska, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming have enacted some form of official English legislation.

Update: The English Language Unity Act of 2005 failed to garner enough support from Senate Democrats and was never debated on the floor.