Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is being scolded for holding what he called a "pretend meeting" in Spanish with a Latino group last week.
Mauro Mujica, chairman of U.S. English, said he found it disturbing that the state's top law-enforcement official would poke fun at Utah's new official English law. The organization, based in Washington, D.C., funded the effort to get the ballot initiative passed last November.
"In addition to mocking the voter-approved statute, the attorney general's remarks also gave the impression official English law somehow prohibits the use of foreign languages at public meetings. That is simply not the case, and if he reads the recent ruling of Utah's 3rd Judicial District Court, he knows that is not the case," Mujica said in a press release Wednesday.
A judge last week found the new law constitutional but largely symbolic.
Shurtleff, who speaks Spanish, met with the La Alianza Latina on Friday night to discuss a variety of issues, including hate crimes, so-called English-only and getting Latinos more involved in local politics. He spoke in Spanish and English during the meeting.
"That's what it was all about, not to make fun of the law," said Shurtleff, who is in Washington, D.C., for a National Association of Attorneys General conference.
The law allows government officials to speak in any language they choose. But all "official" business must be conducted in English. The Latino Alliance invited Shurtleff to speak at its meeting.
Shurtleff said he understands the law and was joking when he referred to the gathering as a "pretend meeting."
Mujica said Shurtleff would "better earn his public salary" by encouraging programs that provide for non-English speakers to learn English.
In response, the attorney general said U.S. English should do the same rather than getting official English laws passed that are mostly symbolic. While he accepts the statute as constitutional, Shurtleff said he believes it makes non-English speakers feel "second class or unofficial."
Shurtleff said Thursday he called U.S. English to set up a meeting with Mujica while he was in Washington. He was told the organization would get back to him.