1st Session

H. R. 123

To amend title 4, United States Code, to declare English as the official language of the Government of the United States.


January 7, 1997

Mr. CUNNINGHAM (for himself, Mrs. EMERSON, Mr. ARMEY, Mr. DELAY, Mr. LINDER, Mr. GOODLING, Mr. RIGGS, Mrs. ROUKEMA, Mr. BALLENGER, Mr. BARRETT of Nebraska, Mr. MCKEON, Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas, Mr. TALENT, Mr. KNOLLENBERG, Mr. SOUDER, Mr. NORWOOD, Mr. PETERSON of Pennsylvania, Mr. ARCHER, Mr. YOUNG of Alaska, Mr. STUMP, Mr. BEREUTER, Mr. SOLOMON, Mr. THOMAS, Mr. PORTER, Mr. BLILEY, Mr. HUNTER, Mr. MCCOLLUM, Mr. WOLF, Mr. BURTON of Indiana, Mr. GEKAS, Mr. KASICH, Mr. SISISKY, Mr. SAXTON, Mr. BARTON of Texas, Mr. BUNNING, Mr. GALLEGLY, Mr. HASTERT, Mr. HERGER, Mr. PICKETT, Mr. SHAYS, Mr. CLEMENT, Mr. DUNCAN, Mr. ROHRABACHER, Mr. TANNER, Mr. DOOLITTLE, Mr. RAMSTAD, Mr. CRAMER, Mr. EWING, Mr. BACHUS, Mr. CALVERT, Mr. COLLINS, Mr. DEAL of Georgia, Ms. DUNN, Mr. GOODLATTE, Mr. HORN, Mr. KING, Mr. MILLER of Florida, Mr. ROYCE, Mr. LEWIS of Kentucky, Mr. BARR of Georgia, Mr. BILBRAY, Mr. BRYANT, Mr. BURR of North Carolina, Mr. CHAMBLISS, Mr. CHRISTENSEN, Mr. COBURN, Mr. GANSKE, Mr. HAYWORTH, Mr. NETHERCUTT, Mr. NEY, Mr. SALMON, Mr. WATTS of Oklahoma, Mr. WELDON of Florida, and Mr. HULSHOF) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce


To amend title 4, United States Code, to declare English as the official language of the Government of the United States.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


    This Act may be cited as the `Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act of 1997'.


    The Congress finds and declares the following:

      (1) The United States is comprised of individuals and groups from diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds.

      (2) The United States has benefited and continues to benefit from this rich diversity.

      (3) Throughout the history of the United States, the common thread binding individuals of differing backgrounds has been a common language.

      (4) In order to preserve unity in diversity, and to prevent division along linguistic lines, the Federal Government should maintain a language common to all people.

      (5) English has historically been the common language and the language of opportunity in the United States.

      (6) The purpose of this title is to help immigrants better assimilate and take full advantage of economic and occupational opportunities in the United States.

      (7) By learning the English language, immigrants will be empowered with the language skills and literacy necessary to become responsible citizens and productive workers in the United States.

      (8) The use of a single common language in conducting official businesss of the Federal Government will promote efficiency and fairness to all people.

      (9) English should be recognized in law as the language of official business of the Federal Government.

      (10) Any monetary savings derived from the enactment of this title should be used for the teaching of the English language to non-English-speaking immigrants.


    (a) IN GENERAL- Title 4, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new chapter:



      `161. Declaration of official language of Federal Government.

      `162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language.

      `163. Official Federal Government activities in English.

      `164. Standing.

      `165. Reform of naturalization requirements.

      `166. Application.

      `167. Rule of construction.

      `168. Affirmation of constitutional protections.

      `169. Definitions.

`Sec. 161. Declaration of official language of Federal Government

    `The official language of the Federal Government is English.

`Sec. 162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language

    `Representatives of the Federal Government shall have an affirmative obligation to preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the Federal Government. Such obligation shall include encouraging greater opportunities for individuals to learn the English language.

`Sec. 163. Official Federal Government activities in English

    `(a) CONDUCT OF BUSINESS- Representatives of the Federal Government shall conduct its official business in English.

    `(b) DENIAL OF SERVICES- No person shall be denied services, assistance, or facilities, directly or indirectly provided by the Federal Government solely because the person communicates in English.

    `(c) ENTITLEMENT- Every person in the United States is entitled—

      `(1) to communicate with representatives of the Federal Government in English;

      `(2) to receive information from or contribute information to the Federal Government in English; and

      `(3) to be informed of or be subject to official orders in English.

`Sec. 164. Standing

    `A person injured by a violation of this chapter may in a civil action (including an action under chapter 151 of title 28) obtain appropriate relief.

`Sec. 165. Reform of naturalization requirements

    `(a) FLUENCY- It has been the longstanding national belief that full citizenship in the United States requires fluency in English. English is the language of opportunity for all immigrants to take their rightful place in society in the United States.

    `(b) CEREMONIES- All authorized officials shall conduct all naturalization ceremonies entirely in English.

`Sec. 166. Application

    `Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the provisions of this chapter shall supersede any existing Federal law that contravenes such provisions (such as by requiring the use of a language other than English for official business of the Federal Government).

`Sec. 167. Rule of construction

    `Nothing in this chapter shall be construed—

      `(1) to prohibit a Member of Congress or an employee or official of the Federal Government, while performing official business, from communicating orally with another person in a language other than English;

      `(2) to limit the preservation or use of Native Alaskan or Native American languages (as defined in the Native American Languages Act);

      `(3) to discriminate against or restrict the rights of any individual in the country; and

      `(4) to discourage or prevent the use of languages other than English in any nonofficial capacity.

`Sec. 168. Affirmation of constitutional protections

    `Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to be inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States.

`Sec. 169. Definitions

    `For purposes of this chapter:

      `(1) FEDERAL GOVERNMENT- The term `Federal Government' means all branches of the national Government and all employees and officials of the national Government while performing official business.

      `(2) OFFICIAL BUSINESS- The term `official business' means governmental actions, documents, or policies which are enforceable with the full weight and authority of the Federal Government, and includes publications, income tax forms, and informational materials, but does not include—

        `(A) teaching of languages;

        `(B) requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;

        `(C) actions, documents, or policies necessary for—

          `(i) national security issues; or

          `(ii) international relations, trade, or commerce;

        `(D) actions or documents that protect the public health and safety;

        `(E) actions or documents that facilitate the activities of the Bureau of the Census in compiling any census of population;

        `(F) actions, documents, or policies that are not enforceable in the United States;

        `(G) actions that protect the rights of victims of crimes or criminal defendants;

        `(H) actions in which the United States has initiated a civil lawsuit; or

        `(I) using terms of art or phrases from languages other than English.

      `(3) UNITED STATES- The term `United States' means the several States and the District of Columbia.'.

    (b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT- The table of chapters for title 4, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:



    This title (and the amendments made by this title) shall not preempt any law of any State.


    The amendments made by section 3 shall take effect on the date that is 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act.