Hawaiian language should be allowed in court

The recent court controversy over whether a professor charged with a crime can use his native language of Hawaiian in his court proceedings has made me recollect Thomas Paine’s statement regarding the use of translation in any discussion requiring logical discourse:

“It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication; after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.”


From the very founding of our nation we have held that speech and language are protected rights. The First Amendment restricts the government from creating any law that abridged the freedom of speech. Our Founding Fathers understood that a person’s right to state his beliefs was sacred and, as Thomas Paine eloquently professed, any translation of the thoughts of one man into a different language ceases to be the exact deliberations of that person. Each language is a tune onto itself. Words from one do not equal words of another. Some idioms have many more words and phrases than others and each often concentrates on words and phrasing for different cultural emphasis.

Not only should Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo be allowed to testify in his native language within his native region of Hawaii, but the person who sits in his judgment should be fluent in Hawaiian also. After all, we are in Hawaii and Hawaiian is a recognized language in this state. To not allow Hawaiian to be spoken in a Hawaiian court is absurd and makes a mockery of the First Amendment, stating Mr. Kaeo has a right to not have the government impede his right to choose how to explain himself (First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution). To have a judge hear the case and rely on translation is to allow the court to receive the defendant’s case second hand and likely with some degree of translation error. This is neither a fair nor a just way to hear a case brought against a Hawaiian in Hawaii.

To set the record straight, I am not a person who believes Mr. Kaeo’s argument against the telescope on Mauna Kea is justified. I believe the telescope will create great opportunities for the people of Hawaii. However, I also believe Mr. Kaeo is right to assert that Hawaiians should be allowed to present their case in Hawaiian. That to do otherwise is an impingement on his inalienable rights. That if protecting his rights creates added expense for the state, the state has an obligation to make sure it has not overstepped its Constitutional boundaries and such expenditures are justified. All rights which are not specifically granted to the government by the Constitution belong to the people.


In this case the Constitution has specifically restricted the government from creating any law which restricts the freedom of speech. A law which restricts the language to be used to English, necessarily restricts the individual’s speech because no two languages are equal.

R. J. Kirchner is a resident of Kailua-Kona

  1. Ken Conklin January 29, 2018 5:29 am Reply

    Anyone is free to speak whatever language he wishes in any place at any time. Go ahead and speak Klingon if you wish; or babble like a baby. But if you wish for someone else to understand what you say, then you really ought to speak a language which your hearer can understand. So the real issue here is whether a party to a court proceeding should have a right to FORCE everyone else to respond to what he says, even if he speaks a language which is not understood by his hearers. In court, if you do not respond to accusations or assertions, then you automatically lose by default. But if no accusations or assertions are made, then there’s nothing that must be responded to. Someone who speaks in Klingon or Babble has not made any accusations or assertions that require a response. Verstehen Sie? Вы понимаете?

  2. Big ideas January 29, 2018 7:22 am Reply

    I now demand French, German, and Irish be spoken in any proceedings I am involved in….these are my ancestor’s languages…..all at taxpayer expense.

  3. diverdave January 29, 2018 8:53 am Reply

    Really it comes down to what a person’s FIRST language is. If they lived all their lives in Russia and came to the U.S., say on vacation, and got into trouble of course they should get an interpreter as their FIRST language is Russian, and may only be able to talk a smattering of English enough to ask where the restrooms are.
    Mr. Kaeo’s first language is English. He only learned some Polynesian-Hawaiian later in life in school. He does NOT use Polynesian-Hawaiian in his everyday life, understands English as well as any of us here, teaches in English, and talked very clearly to the news media.
    Here then is the difference. Mr. Kaeo is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A poser, a fake, a fraud.
    You can put a few tattoos on face, claim Polynesian ancestry, but that doesn’t mean that you need an interpreter just because you went to a school and learned some Swahili.
    In fact, it could actually harm Mr. Kaeo’s defense when a juror isn’t clear of a answer he gives.
    In this situation, especially when it had been decided back in December that the proceeding would be in English, Mr. Kaeo was simply grandstanding and wasting everyone’s time.

  4. R. J. January 29, 2018 2:19 pm Reply

    We should recognize that English and Hawaiian languages are recognized by the State constitution as official State languages. Klingon, French, German, and Gallic are not.

    1. Ken Conklin January 30, 2018 3:38 am Reply

      Article XV Section 4 of the Hawaii Constitution includes a disclaimer or restriction, which I have emphasized in this quotation of it: “English and Hawaiian shall be the official languages of Hawaii, EXCEPT THAT HAWAIIAN SHALL BE REQUIRED FOR PUBLIC ACTS AND TRANSACTIONS ONLY AS PROVIDED BY LAW.”

      I have researched the legislative history of Article XV Section 4 from the transcripts of the Constitutional Convention of 1978, and have found no evidence that there was any legislative intent to place Hawaiian on an equal footing with English in legal proceedings. Indeed, the author of Article XV Section 4, Adelaide (Frenchy) De Soto, explicitly said that her reason for introducing it was her unhappiness that Hawaiian was grouped with foreign languages in college catalogues.

      Probably everyone who chooses to use Hawaiian language in court proceedings will do so for political reasons as an act of resistance, defiance and hostility toward the United States and its “puppet regime” the State of Hawaii.

      The Hawaiian-speakers in our courtrooms are engaged in street-theatre. They are literally in contempt of court, because they claim the court has no jurisdiction over them due to the “illegal military invasion and occupation” of Hawaii as admitted in the U.S. “confession” of 1993 (i.e., the apology resolution). So even after taxpayers are so kind to let them testify in Hawaiian, and so generous to pay for their interpreters, they will then refuse to obey the decision or court order.

      These Hawaiian sovereignty protesters are intentionally using Hawaiian language as a political weapon to delay and disrupt court proceedings, and to assert the continuing existence of a Hawaiian nation. By allowing Hawaiian language testimony we are allowing our courtroom to be used as the stage for a political rally by people who refuse to recognize the state’s jurisdiction or legitimacy. Please see my large, detailed webpage “Hawaiian Language as a Political Weapon”

      1. R. J. January 30, 2018 7:00 am Reply

        You are correct that the defendants are using the courts as a stage to voice their grievances and explain their actions. Isn’t that what courts are for? If the State chooses to charge them with a crime, don’t they deserve the opportunity to explain their actions? You may look at them as taking advantage of their circumstances and making a show of the court proceedings. But, who gave them this stage? The state did when they charged them with a crime!
        It is without doubt that the U.S. and the State of Hawaii have acted poorly in regards to how Hawaii was annexed and how the State has continued to ignore its obligations to the Hawaiian people financially. I cannot blame those who try to shed light on these improprieties for taking advantage of every opportunity to shed light on the plight of the Hawaiian people. The State has given them their microphone, and they are using it.
        As to whether or not Hawaiian is an appropriate language for this action, some of the comments regarding my article are illustrative. It cannot be argued that Hawaiian was the recognized language of this region until fairly recently. It is not a dead or ancient language. It is the language of the native people of this area. English language is the intruder. Yet, many of the comments regarding my article put this language on a par with fake languages such as Klingon or call it babble. This alone is a clear illustration of plight of the Hawaiian people, their culture and their language.
        The defendant has a right to defend himself from the charges. He has a right to present his own defense. Obviously the defense in this case is his desire to protect Hawaiian culture. I am not convinced that his defense can be as clear in English as it would be in Hawaiian. And, neither is the judge or you. At the end of the day, the defendant has a right to be heard.
        R. J.

        1. Ken Conklin January 30, 2018 12:27 pm Reply

          My dear R.J. Your well-written response makes it clear that you support the “right” of the defendants to use the court as a venue for street-theatre, to present their grievances on all manner of issues. But no. Defendants were charged with a specific crime, and court is the place where that specific charge must be adjudicated. The activists are free to engage in actual street demonstrations — in the street, not in the courtroom. They can publish articles, maintain websites or blogs, etc. Everyone acknowledges that babies are unable to control their outcries and their bowels, so we tolerate their off-topic screams and poops even in the middle of solemn worship services. But an adult charged with a crime must use the court as the place to defend against that specific charge, and not to spew rhetoric on other issues, especially when that rhetoric is in a language which hardly anyone else understands. A defendant should use the language of the judge and jury if he is fluent in that language. We taxpayers are very kind and generous to pay for interpreters for defendants who are not fluent in English. But we are under no moral or legal obligation to pay for a defendant to use whatever language he prefers merely in order to assert that language is important, and certainly not to force everyone else to use that language or to pay for their own interpreters. Hawaiian is a beautiful language, which I am proud to use at a moderate level of fluency. But sovereignty activists have weaponized Hawaiian language as a political tool, and have selected the courts as a battleground to wield that weapon. Read my webpage “Hawaiian language as a political weapon” — google it.

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