Judges to decide if veganism is a religion

Going bananas: At least 20% of under-35s have tried a vegan diet.

What should the verdict be? In a landmark anti-discrimination case, a charity worker who was sacked from his job is arguing that veganism should be recognised as a “religion or belief”.

Jordi Casamitjana says that his vegan beliefs got him sacked from his job.

While working for the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal rights charity, he discovered the organisation was investing in companies that are involved in animal testing. Angered, he raised the issue with his bosses, told other employees, and quickly lost his job.

The League Against Cruel Sports says Casamitjana was fired for “gross misconduct”, and denies that his veganism was a factor.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on their “religion or belief”. At an upcoming tribunal, it will be determined whether veganism fits into that category.

To be considered a “philosophical belief”, the viewpoint must concern “a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour” and “not conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.

Vegans do not eat meat or any animal products, such as eggs or milk, as they believe the way animals are farmed harms them.

The number of vegans in the UK has risen by 300% in the last four years, with trends like Veganuary — which encourages people to give up animal products for January — helping the lifestyle to become mainstream.

But Casamitjana argues that his beliefs go deeper.

“I use this term ‘ethical veganism’ because for me veganism is a belief and affects every single aspect of my life,” he says.

This means he will not wear materials that come from animals, like leather and wool, or use toiletries tested on animals. Some ethical vegans prefer to use the term “companion animals” rather than “pets”, and they may choose not to visit zoos.

Researcher Shareena Hamzah, from Swansea University, predicts that as veganism gains influence in society, it will change our language too.

An idiom such as “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”, which suggests violence against animals, could become “there’s more than one way to peel a potato”. Meanwhile, “bring home the bacon” might become “bring home the bagels”.

Is veganism a religion?

Furry friends

Of course not, say some. Just like the decision to eat meat or fish, veganism is a dietary choice. It’s insulting to put this in the same category as deeply-held religions. Besides, it’s dangerous to give legal protection to just one point of view. It could stifle healthy debate and differences of opinion with the threat of legal action.

Don’t be so sure, respond others. For people like Casamitjana, veganism is far more than just a diet. It has its own ethical system that changes how a person views the world, like any religion. And it requires you to follow practical rules every day to keep in line with these moral lessons. What’s the difference?

You Decide

  1. Should veganism be given the same protections as a religion?
  2. Should we all become vegans?

Activities

  1. Could you be a vegan? Design a vegan meal plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack, listing your ingredients. Share your plan with your classmates.
  2. Make a list of reasons why a person might become a vegan, then rank them from those you think are the most important to those that are the least important. Discuss your reasoning with a partner.

Some People Say...

“Eating for me is how you proclaim your beliefs three times a day. That is why all religions have rules about eating.”

Natalie Portman

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
For the first time, a tribunal will decide whether veganism is a “philosophical belief” akin to a religion. Jordi Casamitjana was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after he told fellow employees that the company was investing its pension fund in businesses involved in animal testing. He says this amounts to discrimination against vegans. The charity denies that veganism was a factor in his dismissal.
What do we not know?
Whether veganism can be considered a religion. Casamitjana argues that ethical veganism, which rejects the use of any products relating to what they see as cruel animal treatment, is distinct from a person choosing to adopt a vegan diet for purely health reasons. The boom in veganism has been largely attributed to health and environmental concerns.

Word Watch

2010 Equality Act
This also bans discrimination based on other factors like race, age, sexuality and gender.
Tribunal
To be held in March 2019. If the hearing concludes that veganism does qualify as a “philosophical belief”, a discrimination trial against the League Against Cruel Sports could follow.
Ethical veganism
Casamitjana claims that not all vegans are “ethical vegans” because many choose to adopt a vegan diet for purely health reasons, rather than because they think consuming animal products is cruel. “I care about the animals and the environment and my health and everything”.
Toiletries
While it is illegal to test cosmetics and toiletries on animals in the UK, some companies whose products are sold here are involved in animal testing in other parts of the world.
Idiom
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”
Skin a cat
Meaning, there is more than one way of achieving your aim. The phrase was first recorded in the mid-1800s.

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