WASHINGTON, May 27 (UPI) -- Believe it or not, there must be Klingons in Oregon. Well, perhaps just people who have taken it upon themselves to learn a language that is spoken only on a TV series, and nowhere else in the universe.
That can be the only explanation for a recent occurrence that sounds as if it is right out of the National Enquirer.
Recently, the Multnomah County Department of Health Services advertised for a translator able to speak that fictional language of these stoic aliens from the long-running "Star Trek" science fiction television series. The official explanation held that the department must provide information in all the languages spoken by their clients.
Once the story hit the newspapers, the county health service backed off, blaming an overzealous employee. Yet any objective review of applicable federal law shows that this employee was correct in seeking interpreters, not only for Klingon, but over 50 other languages.
Most Americans have still not heard of Executive Order 13166. There is a reason. President Clinton signed this document on the same Friday afternoon that members of the inside-the-Beltway news media were exiting the city to attend the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
E.O. 13166 created a new civil right. Any person is entitled to receive a translation into any language of his choice, including Klingon, from any recipient of federal funds. E.O. 13166 applies to every agency of federal, state and local government, as well as any business, which receives any federal contracts. A person who speaks English is still entitled to a translation into any other language of his choice, free of charge.
Here are two examples of what can happen at your expense:
One of my colleagues during the time that I worked in the U.S. Senate was Mike Hammond, who had majored in Mandarin Chinese in college and, thanks to the order, is entitled to insist that the Internal Revenue Service must conduct an audit of his taxes be done in Mandarin Chinese.
If I were to be audited by the IRS, I might desire to have it conducted in ancient Aramaic, since, as a practicing Christian, I could "render unto Caesar" in the actual language used by Jesus Christ. When I asked Jim Boulet, the leading expert in the country on E.O. 13166, he replied that my legal right to have such a request granted is an "open question."
Boutlet is executive director of English First, an organization dedicated to ensuring English remain our country's common language. When this policy was first issued, Boulet was beside himself. When he started asking influential legislators about E.O. 13166, none had heard of it. The conventional wisdom was that surely if Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the 2000 election, then surely the order would be repealed. However, it remains on the books and Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, is not in favor of repeal.
Immigrants have prospered in this country in large part because they learned English quickly. Moreover, the fact that, historically, America has been united by a common language has enabled us to avoid the divisiveness of bilingual countries such as Canada and Belgium. But this executive order has served to diminish the importance of having immigrants learn English, and it is a proposition that can prove to be very difficult and expensive to administer.
This is another instance where compassionate conservative needs to be balanced by a consciousness of other important issues. Right now, compassionate conservatism requires that we not tell Hispanics or Vietnamese or Chinese or Arabs or any of the other large groups of immigrants that they have to learn English in order to reap the benefits of federal programs. Even if you accept that premise, why not partially repeal this executive order, saying that there have to be at least ... pick a number ... say 500,000 people who speak that language in this country before a translator is made available. Of course, Icelanders, of whom there are very few, may view this to be discriminatory.
Perhaps. But there has to be some brake on the multicultural highway. Once our country starts to speed down this road, where do we turn back? Out in California, they give driver's tests in dozens of languages. Well and good. But the road signs are only printed in English. Is it comforting to be on the road with someone who has passed his driver's test in Chinese but who can't read a word in English?
Congress will have to act if Bush fails to do so. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has introduced a bill, H.R. 300, which would, if passed, prevent Congress from expending any funds to enforce E.O. 13166.
This is a matter that I feel about quite strongly, and I believe it is in the best interest of immigrants, too. In this day and age, I hope we do not think that today's immigrants are less capable of learning English than previous waves who came to this country from the 1860s through the 1930s who were usually from relatively even poorer and less worldly backgrounds and did not have CNN International. My own father was an immigrant from Germany in the 1920s who enrolled in night classes to learn English within weeks of his arrival.
Countless immigrants have prospered by following the path taken by my father. However, E.O. 13166 annihilates our country's common language. It should be "beamed up" into the graveyard for atrocious regulations quicker than Captain Kirk could say, "Phasers on stun."
(Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and chief executive officer of the Free Congress Foundation.)