ACLU, Native American and Community Groups Seek to Block Alaska's "English-Only" Law

February 12, 1999 12:00 am

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Friday, February 12, 1999

ANCHORAGE–Saying that a new English-only initiative scheduled to go into effect next month will stifle communication in schools and government offices, the Alaska Civil Liberties Union and local groups filed a lawsuit in state court today.

The lawsuit, Alakayak, et al. v. State of Alaska, was brought by the AkCLU, the Native American Rights Fund and the North Slope Borough on behalf of over two dozen plaintiffs whose constitutional rights, the groups say, will be violated under the English-Only initiative. The initiative, passed by almost 70% of the voters in November, is scheduled to take effect on March 4th.

At a news conference today in Anchorage, Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the AkCLU, said the English-only initiative violates a number of citizens rights under the state Constitution, including the rights to free expression and free speech, the rights of all Alaskans to have access to their government and to petition their government for redress of grievances, and the right to equal protection under the law.

“The initiative is worded so broadly that it covers oral communication as well as written documents,” Rudinger said. “In most situations, Alaskans will be prohibited from communicating with government workers in any language other than English, even if the government worker happens to know other languages.”

Plaintiffs in the case include:

– Benjamin Nageak, Mayor of the North Slope Borough;
– Spanish-speakers, Yupik-speakers and Inupiaq speakers from all across
– teachers and other employees of Alaska public schools who need to
communicate with students and their parents in languages other than
– parents who need to be able to communicate with school teachers and
administrators about their children in languages other than English;
– public officials who need to be able to conduct local government
business in Native languages as well as in English, and;
-citizens who are not proficient in English who need to be able to
communicate with government workers who happen to know other languages.

Lead attorneys in the case are Eric Johnson, Heather Kendall-Miller and Les Gara with the Native American Rights Fund; Bill Caldwell of Fairbanks for the AkCLU; and Todd Sherwood with the North Slope Borough.

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