December 16, 2005

Thought Police 1, Bar Owner 0

Filed under: Economy,Immigration,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:01 am

Dec. 19 Update: Thought Police 1, Bar Owner 0; Bar Owners Showing Solidarity–1

A bar owner faces state sanctions for posting a “For Service Speak English” sign at his establishment.

Note: More text from the article was added at 10:30 a.m. for clarity.

If you walk into any United Dairy Farmers (UDF) store in the Greater Cincinnati area (for out-of-towners, UDF is like 7-11, only much better), there will typically be two or three employees to help you. If you want a sundae or an ice cream cone, the overwhelming odds are that you’ll have to speak English to get the flavor and size you want.

UDF stores don’t have “For Service Speak English” signs.

If go into a UPS Store (the old Mailboxes Etc. before they were purchased) to mail your Christmas packages, two or three employees will typically be there to serve you. If you want to ship your packages or make copies, the overwhelming odds are that you’ll have to speak English to get your business done.

UPS stores don’t have “For Service Speak English” signs.

Tom Ullum’s Pleasure Inn in Mason has two employees and the owner, all three of whom only speak English. But if you want a beer, a mixed drink, or food, you don’t necessarily have to be able to speak English. Some words are universally understood (HT R-Rated Whistleblower via e-mail):

For example, Ullum said he has served Russian customers who didn’t speak English but knew how to say Budweiser or Vodka. That sparked laughter in the audience of about 100.

But The Pleasure Inn has a “For Service Speak English” sign.

That sign explains the audience of 100. The audience was at a hearing of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) in Columbus on Thursday. Things did not go well for Mr. Ullum, personal liberties, or common sense:

A unanimous Ohio Civil Rights Commission found probable cause of discrimination today by a 63-year-old Mason tavern owner for posting a sign that says: “For Service Speak English.’’

The case was referred to an administrative law judge for an opinion on further legal action.

….. Just when it looked like commissioners might be willing to negotiate a settlement, the Rev. Aaron Wheeler Sr., the commission chairman, asked Ullum and his Arlington, Va., attorney, K.C. McAlpin, if they would remove the sign.

They said no.

McAlpin said Ullum has served “people of virtually every national origin … Neither of Mr. Ullum’s two employees speak languages other than English … This is really pretty preposterous.’’

“It’s discrimination,’’ Wheeler said. “It will not be tolerated in the state of Ohio.’’

The judge will offer an opinion about possible legal action which could range from ordering the sign to be removed to fines or even jail time. Matt Miko, the commission’s chief legal counsel, said the case is precedent-setting. His research found no court decisions addressing this specific issue.

No, Mr. Miko, the fact that there are no court decisions means that the case, and the ruling, are precedent-breaking. The “precedent” being broken is that annoying section known as the First Amendment in that especially annoying document known as The United States Constitution, which says that “Congress shall make no law ….. abridging the freedom of speech.” That’s why you can’t, and won’t, find a court decision on the issue–No one else has been dense enough to believe that posting a sign requesting that patrons speak the language of the owner and his employees is a form of discrimination. And even if someone felt slighted by the sign, no one has been dense enough to believe that the feeling of being slighted is more important than, and somehow overrides, the First Amendment of The US Constitution.

Back to the case–Not only does the Commission not need a precedent, it doesn’t even need evidence of discrimination, or complaints about it (bolds are mine):

Charlie Winburn, a commission member from Cincinnati, appeared willing to give Ullum the benefit of the doubt. He asked the complainant why she didn’t send so-called “testers’’ in to see if the tavern refused to serve any customers.

“Is there a violation of the law?’’ he said. “Where is your proof or evidence?’’

Elizabeth Brown, executive director of Cincinnati-based HOME – Housing Opportunities Made Equal – said the sign speaks for itself. Some HOME representatives stopped by once at noon but were told the inn didn’t serve lunch, she said. She didn’t think it was necessary to gather additional evidence.

“I really think you all failed in this case,’’ Winburn said. “I think you missed an opportunity. HOME missed an opportunity … We have no past practice of discrimination. We have no evidence of it.’’

Winburn said that after the case got national attention, no one came forward to complain about service by Ullum or the Pleasure Inn, noting that Butler County is populated by about 1,400 Hispanics and 4,200 African Americans.

Yet Winburn joined the other four commissioners in ruling against Ullum after he remained adamant that he has a right to favor English over other languages.

(Aside: Remember that Mr. Ullum has two employees. Which one should he fire or spend thousands of extra dollars training so that he can serve the occasional non-English-speaking patron? The Cincinnati Enquirer Inquisitor “helpfully” suggested in an October 8 editorial that “He could prove he doesn’t discriminate, embracing the change going on in his community, by hiring a bilingual employee.” Zheesh.)

So we have a “complainant” who couldn’t find anyone with a specific grievance with the bar, or evidence of any kind of discrimination, but who didn’t let those mere trifles stop her from pursuing her “complaint.”

To summarize: NO precedent, NO evidence, and NO complaints. And in the case of Mr. Winburn, NO spine. Obviously, Tom Ullum’s guilty.

The OCRC has become an Alice-in-Wonderland embarrassment.

The administrative judge who is saddled with this case, if he or she doesn’t first die of laughter from reading through the proceedings, should use it as fireplace kindling.

And if the Pleasure Inn case doesn’t convince the state legislature to de-fund this aptly described “$11,456,071-per-year Political Correctness Commission, whose 135+ bureaucRATS seem to have nothing better to do than travel around the state so they can persecute people like bar owners in Mason for having a helpful sign in their window,” nothing will.

UPDATE: NixGuy on the OCRC members: “this collection of idiots and invertebrates.”

UPDATE 2: Interesting observation by The Kirk“….. if you’re against the Patriot act but support the commission on this matter, you, my friend, are a hypocrite. You can’t bitch and complain about having your rights violated while supporting a commission that’s violating someone’s rights.”

UPDATE 3: In an e-mail, Will Durant IV asks–“What if someone on Linn Street put up a sign, ‘For service speak Ebonics?’” (Linn Street is in Cincinnati’s inner-city predominantly African-American neighborhood known as the West End–Ed.)

Previous Post:
October 9 — Questions for the Thought Police at the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dec. 16: Outside the Beltway Jammer.

Dec. 17: Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.



  1. This (to me) is clearly a first amendment case. I can post a sign saying a lot of things. If I post a sign saying I drive 95 MPH would the police take my word and give me a speeding ticket without any additional evidence? Are the idiots on this commission also saying that if I ran a business and customers came in speaking Arabic I’d have to figure out what they want? Almost feel like driving over to Mason and giving this guy some business as a show of support.

    Comment by largebill — December 16, 2005 @ 10:57 am

  2. #1 – Some have already done what you are thinking about doing. But not enough to pay the legal bills, I would think.

    Comment by TBlumer — December 16, 2005 @ 12:07 pm

  3. As one who advocates moving forward from a historical mis-notion of ‘race’ (see The Unhyphenated American ) by removing ‘race’ statistics from the Census, this appears to be more a case of ‘frustration’ vs. ‘discrimination’. ‘Frustration’ that resulted in crude, yet protected, political speech.

    This is not to excuse vestigial discrimination that some in our country still practice…on all ends of the spectrum.

    I wonder if the transcript, if one exists, of the hearings will show the following questions being asked:

    “Mr.Ullum, Your sign was written in English, correct? Who did you expect to read the ‘information’ you provided on the sign and follow the ‘instructions’?”

    “Mr. Ullum, what precipitated the display of the sign?” This question would seek to determine if the sign was as a political statement to be understood only by English speaking patrons.

    These questions presuppose that the Commission even has jurisdiction over the issue. In light of our history of discrimination, I think they did. But in light of our history of free speech as well, they also have the responsibility to get to the heart of the matter. Mr. Wilburn asked the critical question that should have been established…define/show the discrimination.

    A ‘self-evident’ argument just doesn’t hold any water in considerting that political speech (even misinformed political speech) may be at risk.

    When you really look at it, it appears that the people who brought the charge (HOME: Housing Opportunities Made Equal) are more concerned with the ‘message’ the sign sends to those that can read it as opposed to those that can’t read it.

    Our society is justified in having Mr. Ullum explain his sign in light of our country’s history of overt discrimination.

    By the same token, our society should also be taking HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) to task and asking them why they may be promoting policies that stifle assimilation. Citizens (and I assume that HOME advocates for citizens and legal immigrants) should not be coddled into thinking that they have no need to adopt English to participate in American society.

    If, Mr. Ullum’s sign addresses the ‘No need to know English to assimilate in America’ philosophy, then it is 100% political speech.

    On the other hand, if his sign says to his Englsih speaking patrons, ‘Wink-Wink, this is a hang-out for the ‘discriminating crowd’…then as an establishment licensed by the State of Ohio, he should have to answer for it.

    Determining the latter is what the commission appears to have failed to accomplish.

    Comment by Porkopolis — December 16, 2005 @ 2:37 pm

  4. Tom,

    Did swing by there. Beer was cold and the hamburger was okay. Not bad prices, 2 beers and a burger for $7. I didn’t attempt to order in Spanish. :-) They have another sign out front that doesn’t make the news report. “Merry Christmas ACLU”

    In my years in the Navy I traveled to dozens of countries. In another country you better learn some of the local language or you won’t like what you ordered. I’ve gotten some toppings on pizza that I’m afraid to think what it might have been. Fortunately, beer is pronounced pretty much the same in any language.

    Comment by LargeBill — December 16, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

  5. #3 I disagree with these two points:

    - Mr. Ullum, what precipitated the display of the sign?

    That’s right on the edge of being a Thought Police question, though I suppose there’s a remote chance that the answer could be that a patron or two who doesn’t speak English didn’t get what they asked for and was dissatisfied.

    - Our society is justified in having Mr. Ullum explain his sign in light of our country’s history of overt discrimination.

    I don’t agree with that because he’s not responsible for that history.

    The hearing showed no evidence of the “wink wink” type of discrimination you’re referring to (or any other kind of discrimination). So you have to conlude that the sign is either 100% political speech as you mentioned, a notice to those who bring non-English speaking patrons that they had better be able to order for them, or some combination of the two.

    Comment by TBlumer — December 16, 2005 @ 4:09 pm

  6. #4 the very last para of the online Enquirer article from yesterday evening (link still works) mentioned the ACLU sign. I don’t know whether it made it into print or in later online versions of the article.

    Comment by TBlumer — December 16, 2005 @ 4:11 pm

  7. [...] ge other than English. This is not a crime. It is also clearly not a crime to say that. BizzyBlog has the story and excellent analysis. We stand by Mr. Ullum and his right to say what he wants on his [...]

    Pingback by » Blog Archive » A Clear Case of Offending Liberal Sensibilities — December 16, 2005 @ 4:28 pm

  8. I happen to work in Mason and will definitely make it in as a show of support. This whole thing is a travesty as noted.

    Comment by dave — December 16, 2005 @ 6:24 pm

  9. The PC Commission needs to be disbanded. The state of race relations in Ohio must be pretty good if they have their time to waste on a matter like this. The PC Commission even admitted they can’t find one person who was discriminated against, yet they cite him for discrimination anyways.

    Comment by CincyJeff — December 18, 2005 @ 12:58 am

  10. Re: Comment in #3

    “#3 I disagree with these two points:

    - Mr. Ullum, what precipitated the display of the sign?

    That’s right on the edge of being a Thought Police question, though I suppose there’s a remote chance that the answer could be that a patron or two who doesn’t speak English didn’t get what they asked for and was dissatisfied.”

    As a libertarian, I know your ‘thought police’ argument has merit. But once that argument is utilized it must be consitently utilized for all parties involved.

    It’s ironic that the ‘thought police’ charge can be used against Mr. Ullum himself? How so?

    Well consider that the “For Service Speak English” sign contains instructions on how to receive service at Mr. Ullum’s establishment.

    It’s undeniable that only an English speaking/reading person can understand the instructions. However, that person need not only speak English; he/she can be multi-lingual.

    To use the services Mr. Ullum provides a multi-lingual person is in fact being ‘policed’ in their ‘thoughts’; because speaking any language involves…well, ‘thought’.

    A patron of Mr. Ullum’s establishment, an establishment licensed by the State of Ohio, is pre-warned (I would argue ‘policed’) as to the thoughts they can have while in the establishment to receive services if, as Mr. Ullum is arguing, the sign is instructional as opposed to a political statment.

    The people of Ohio (via the State of Ohio) have every right to say how licensed businesses will conduct business within the boundaries of the State. As a libertarian, I would argue that the right should be limited to the very bare minimum.

    I argued in my comment that the sign can be a poltical statement, which should be protected as political speech. I can also argue that it’s ‘discriminatory’ statement.

    My reading of the Enquirer article is that the Commission failed in it’s responsibility to ascertain the ‘discrmination’…they essentially passed the hot potato to a judge.

    As to:

    Mr. Ullum is certainly not responsible for that history, but he/we are responsible for the now and the future…in essence not repeating the mistakes of history.

    All Ohioans should vigorously support protected political speech. But we should also be informed by our collective history. If we don’t let history inform us why would we waste our time studying it?

    Comment by Porkopolis — December 18, 2005 @ 11:58 am

  11. #10 – Good points, but I think it’s all trumped by the fact that the only “complaint” thus far is the existence of the sign, not any words or actions by the owner or employees.

    But I’m uncomfortable with the thought-speech linkage. Of course speech requires thought to occur, but the distinction in the law has been (until so-called “hate crimes” laws came along, all of which are IMO a big mistake), that what you say and do is what matters, because it’s objectively determinable, not what is going through your mind, which can’t be objectively determined.

    Maybe it’s quibbling, but I would instead ask Mr. Ullum “What is the meaning of the sign to you and why did you put it up?” (sort of close to “precipitated” but not quite as “precipitated” seems to assume some event occurred to cause it). And if he doesn’t want to tell me or the OCRC he doesn’t have to.

    If you’re suggesting that the state review his liquor license (LL), that would actually have been a more viable road to go down. LL regs may have some kind of condition that would regulate the content of signage, etc., and Ullum would have had to agree to those regs to get the LL, or to renew it.

    Who knows, OCRC may have quietly explored that angle and found no potential. Or maybe they’re holding that in their back pocket if they can’t make a pure discrimination charge stick. Or maybe they’re too dense to consider that angle–Given the apparent collective wisdom of OCRC, it’s probably that.

    I’m not saying history is irrelevant. It’s very relevant. Except in the type of punishment that will ultimately be meted out, I’m not seeing a lot of difference between this and a Stalinist show trial. Evidence doesn’t matter.

    Comment by TBlumer — December 18, 2005 @ 1:01 pm

  12. [...] world. A big hat tip to Bizzyblog for it’s excellent coverage on this issue here, here and here. Technorati Tags: Immigration Politics

    Filed in: Immigration |

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    Pingback by Flopping Aces » Blog Archive » For Service, Speak English — December 20, 2005 @ 2:27 pm

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