FREDERICK, Md. – Frederick County has become the first county in Maryland to make English the official language of the government.
The vote was 4-1 on Tuesday, with the lone dissent coming from Commissioner David Gray.
“If you would stop anyone on the streets, anywhere, and ask them what is the official language of the United States, they would say English,” says Commission Board President Blaine Young.
A public hearing regarding the issue took nearly three hours, during which most of the 19 people who spoke were against the measure.
Among those speaking against the ordinance was Meredith Kelly, who says the first settlers of Frederick County were German.
“By various reports, English was not the area language until the Irish immigrants came in in the late 1840s. The original newspapers were published in both German and English. So, I have to look at the history of the county and wonder, what the hell is the point of this legislation? What does it benefit, because it looks like pure anti-immigrant posturing,” Kelly says.
Young says it would help deter illegal immigration in the county.
“I think this measure preserves and enhances the quality of life for Frederick County citizens,” he says.
Board Vice President Paul Smith says a common language will build unity in the county and improve county efficiency.
Only two people spoke in favor of the ordinance during a public hearing before the vote. One of them was Suzanne Bibby with the group ProEnglish. On its website, the group calls itself the nation’s leading advocate of official English.
“Approving this official English ordinance today will be a positive step in fostering assimilation among Frederick residents, and will help to stop and prevent in the future the county from providing foreign language translations at taxpayers expense,” Bibby says.
“English is the language of success in the United States, and Census data continue to prove that those who speak English earn on average 2 to 3 times as much as those who don’t,” says Bibby.
Gray, who voted no, says the ordinance distresses him terribly because he says it turns back the clock.
Young, in reaction to Gray’s vote, says, “I think it’s quite absurd.”
Under the ordinance, English would be the only language allowed for official business.
Official documents will also only be printed in English.
However, the measure would still permit other languages to be spoken for meetings concerning public health or safety.
It would be allowed for tourism and trade.
“We are not going to spend taxpayer dollars to produce official documents in other languages except English,” Young says.
In 2008, the Frederick County Commissioners proclaimed English as the official language, although that was only a symbolic measure.
The ordinance takes effect Wednesday.
WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report. Follow Michelle and WTOP on Twitter.