Santorum’s Misstep

Republican candidate Rick Santorum was busy wooing Puerto Rican voters in the primary when he remarked,“As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law. And that is that English has to be the main language. There are other states with more than one language as is the case in Hawaii, but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language.”

Reuters reported that Santorum made the comment during a March 14th interview with El Vocero, a newspaper published in San Juan. Another news agency, Newsmax, quoted Santorum as saying, in the same interview, “I have no doubt that one of the requirements that will be put forth to Congress is a requirement that English would be universal here on the island,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that people can’t speak Spanish in their homes, or in their business, or on the street, but that everyone would have a proficiency in English.”

Chairman Mauro E. Mujica of U.S. English, an organization working toward making English the official language of the United States, wrote to Santorum (and to Romney) urging that English as the sole official language of Puerto Rico be a condition for statehood.

English Only claims that there have been similar requirements in the past, for Louisiana, Arizona, and Oklahoma; it is possible that their letter misled Santorum into believing that the use of English is a constitutional requirement. It is not. In fact, though English has been proposed as an official language in the U.S. many times, beginning in 1780, the United States has never declared an official language.

While Mitt Romney, the other Republican candidate campaigning in Puerto Rico in 2012, was endorsed by English Only in 2008 for his strong official-English stance, he has repeatedly announced that he would not favor any preconditions for statehood during this year’s campaign.

Santorum spoke on the subject again the following day, saying, “I never said only English should be spoken here. Never did I even intimate that.” He also said that English should be “the common language” and that all Americans should speak English.

Both English and Spanish are currently official languages in Puerto Rico. Several U.S. states have declared English their official language (Hawaii being the only state with two official languages), but many states have followed the federal government’s lead and left the question open.

Officials and journalists in Puerto Rico and on the mainland have expressed distress over Santorum’s comments, as reported in the Washington Post and in the CNN clip below.

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