English Only Bill Hits Senate Floor

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill that calls for the national anthem to be sung solely in English, in response to a Spanish-language version of the national anthem that was released on Friday.
We wouldn’t recite the Pledge in French, or German, or Russian, or Hindi, or even Chinese (which, after Spanish, is the second most spoken foreign language in the United States). And we shouldn’t sing the national anthem in Spanish, or any other foreign language.

The following are his prepared remarks in their entirety.
Mr. President, across the country today, thousands and thousands of immigrants – legal and illegal – are marching in a nationwide rally. Many are saying that they, too, want to be Americans.

 

But, Mr. President, I’m afraid the message is, quite literally, getting lost in translation. As part of these demonstrations, a new version of our national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, has been produced – in Spanish.

 

According to an article in the Washington Post last Friday, at least 389 different versions of our anthem have been produced over the years, in many musical styles, including rock and roll and country. But, the Post also noted, never before has it been rendered in another language.

 

It may be a first, but it is a big first step in the wrong direction. And it’s a mistake precisely because our nation is a nation of immigrants.

 

Almost all of us are descended from immigrants from Britain, or Germany, or Italy, or France, or China, or Mexico, or some other country around the world. Our forefathers, who came from those many different countries, spoke many different languages. But in coming here, they agreed to speak one common language, one language to unify us as a nation, one language so we can all speak with one another. And that language is English.

 

In fact, in order for a legal immigrant to become a citizen of the United States, one requirement is that he or she demonstrate at least an eighth-grade level understanding of the English language.

 

English is a part of who we are as Americans – it’s part of what unites us. Just as we are united by our history and our shared values, like liberty, equal opportunity, and the rule of law.

 

I worry, Mr. President, that translating our national anthem will actually have the effect of dividing us. It adds to the celebration of multiculturalism in our society which has eroded our understanding of our common American culture.

 

Ours is a diverse nation. But diversity is not our greatest accomplishment. Jerusalem is diverse. The Balkans are diverse. Iraq is diverse. What makes America unique is that we have taken all that magnificent diversity and turned it into one nation.

 

Will translating our anthem into multiple languages also erode our sense of having a common language that allows us to speak with one another as one nation?

 

Our national anthem is a symbol of all those things that unite us. It’s a product of our history.

 

The Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. Our nation was then in the midst of the War of 1812. Our capital, Washington, DC, was invaded and burned by the British. Smoke was billowing from the White House and from this very Capitol building. And General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was fast becoming a national hero.

 

On September 13, 1814, just a few weeks after the invasion of Washington, British forces began a 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Through the day and all through the night, the rockets and bombs flew. And the next day, on September 14, standing aboard an American ship eight miles out from Baltimore, Francis Scott Key looked and saw that the stars and stripes were still waving over the fort, and the British were forced to withdraw. Our flag was still there.

 

I went to see that very same flag, a few months ago, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The museum is in the process of carefully preserving it so that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to see the original flag that inspired our national anthem. It has 15 stars and 15 stripes for the 15 states of the Union at that time. It wasn’t until four years later, in 1818, that Congress and President Monroe decided the flag should always have 13 stripes, but a number of stars equal to the number of states.

 

That flag and that song are a part of our history and our national identity. It declares some of our national ideals, in being the "land of the free and the home of the brave." That’s why in 1931 Congress declared the Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem.

 

That’s why we should always sing it in our common language, English. And that’s why today I am introducing a resolution that affirms that statements of national unity, especially the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, ought to be recited or sung in English.

 

We wouldn’t recite the Pledge in French, or German, or Russian, or Hindi, or even Chinese (which, after Spanish, is the second most spoken foreign language in the United States). And we shouldn’t sing the national anthem in Spanish, or any other foreign language.

 

So, in this land of immigrants, let’s all sing it together, as one American nation, in our common language: English.

 

Mr. President, on behalf of myself, Senator Frist, Senator McConnell, Senator Stevens, Senator Isakson, and Senator Roberts, I send this resolution to the desk for purposes of introduction.