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Criminalizing Hate Speech Causes More Problems than It Solves


Hate speech is pretty awful, but criminalizing it only opens the door for silencing other forms of speech.

by Jen Maffessanti

I’ve written a couple of times about Catalonia and its independence referendum. For those who are new to the issue, on October 1st of this year, Catalonia held a much-contested referendum on the subject of secession from Spain. The Spanish government was, put politely, unhappy about the vote and went to great lengths to try to prevent it. There were many, well-documented cases of Spanish National Police using violent force against Catalan voters.

There has since been a lot of drama about the vote, with Spain revoking Catalonia’s autonomy, arrest warrants issued for top Catalan officials, and generalized strong-arming by the Spanish government regarding the whole affair. Case in point, eight Catalan school teachers have been criminally charged with promoting hate speech for debating the behavior of the Spanish police during the referendum.

Near as I can tell, whether or not such a debate took place is a point of contention in the case, but that is beside the point. Even if the teachers had been openly critical of the behavior of the Spanish police, and even if this criticism had occurred in the classroom, classifying such speech as criminal is incredibly worrying—but not altogether unexpected.

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