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