11/20/2008

Meeting in French poses question of clarity

In the dailyworld.com, NOVEMBER 20, 2008:
We are all for preserving the language and traditions of south Louisiana, but we wonder whether a public meeting is the place to do it.

The Evangeline Parish Police Jury has voted to hold its entire meeting on December 8 in French. It has been the jury's custom to do that for the past several years, and we understand and applaud the motive behind it.

But, given that so many of the people today no longer speak or understand French, there is a legitimate question of whether a meeting held in a language that is unfamiliar to most of the population does not run afoul of the intent, if not the letter, of the state's Sunshine laws.

Those laws were passed - and have recently been strengthened - to make sure that public business is done in a forum in which the public understands what is going on and can participate in the proceedings.

There was a day when a meeting in French in Evangeline Parish would have met that standard, but we think, sadly, that the times have changed too much for that to be the case today.


There is a bit of legal history here, that seems to indicate that legal matters can proceed in French, but only in addition to English.

Louisiana has never declared an "official language" as such. In 1812, when we entered the Union, more people spoke French than English. Because of that Congress insisted that the state's first constitution to require that all laws and official documents be published in the language "in which the Constitution of the United States is written" - that is, in English, but not only in English.

Until the Civil War, Louisiana continued to publish documents in French and the legislature continued to operate bilingually as a practical necessity and the current state constitution provides:

"The right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective historic linguistic and cultural origins is recognized."

Under state law, all legal advertising "shall be made in the English language and may in addition be duplicated in the French language."

We would love to see both languages used, regularly rather than once a year, but only in forums and in a way that it is certain that the full public understands the public issues being presented.

No comments: