UK court gives veganism status of a religion

Moral victory: Jordi Casamitjana (above) was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports. © J Casamitjana

Should vegans be protected by law? A UK court has ruled veganism deserves the same protection as Christianity or Islam; some worry the lines between belief and lifestyle are being blurred.

Veganism is taking over.

This month, record numbers of people will take part in Veganuary, cutting animal-based food out of their diet for a month. Restaurants and supermarkets are offering vegan burgers, sausage rolls and even steak.

And, now, some think veganism deserves the same status as a religion. In a landmark anti-discrimination case, a UK court has ruled that “ethical veganism” should be considered a “philosophical belief”.

The case was brought by Jordi Casamitjana, a former employee at the League Against Cruel Sports (Lacs). He argues that he was unfairly sacked after raising concerns about the charity’s investment in companies involved in animal testing. Lacs says he was dismissed for “gross misconduct” and it had nothing to do with his beliefs.

The 2010 Equality Act protects workers from being discriminated based on their “religion or belief”.

But when does an opinion or a lifestyle become a belief? UK law states that it must concern “a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour” and “not conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.

The judge argued that Casamitjana’s veganism fits this definition. Because of his beliefs, he not only avoids meat and dairy products but also does without leather or wool and never uses toiletries tested on animals.

Similar court cases have recognised the need for radical action on the climate crisis and the belief in Scottish independence from the UK as beliefs protected from discrimination.

A legal expert at the Vegan Society said, “It’s a fantastic day for animals and it’s a fantastic day for vegans.” Casamitjana hopes “something positive will come [from my dismissal] by ensuring other ethical vegans are better protected in the future”.

However, many are concerned about what this ruling might mean. Should your lifestyle choice, however deeply held, be treated the same way as a religious identity? Do you have the right to work for any company, regardless of whether you share the same values and beliefs?

And should veganism be protected by law?

You are what you eat

Of course not, say the critics. Veganism is a choice, an ethical and dietary preference, and simply cannot be compared to a person’s religion. It is not only insulting to those with religious beliefs, but it is also selfish. If your lifestyle means you give up and avoid certain products, you must accept that there are some organisations you cannot work for.

Others say that people are confusing two types of veganism. This isn’t about giving up meat for January or buying a vegan sausage roll. Ethical vegans consider all animal life to be sacred, as do many of the world’s religions. Throughout history, people have been discriminated against for holding similar beliefs before they were recognised and protected. All the law is doing is keeping up with changes in society.

You Decide

  1. Should veganism have the same status as a religion?
  2. What is the difference between an opinion and a belief?

Activities

  1. Could you be an ethical vegan? What would you need to do differently in order to avoid harming any animals?
  2. “We should all be vegan.” Watch the BBC video in the expert links. In groups, brainstorm the case for and against global veganism.

Some People Say...

“Violence begins with the fork.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian lawyer, anti-colonial activist and lifelong vegetarian

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
This is the conclusion of the first part of a court tribunal to decide whether Jordi Casamitjana was “unfairly dismissed” from his job at the charity. By ruling that veganism is a “philosophical belief”, the judge agrees that Casamitjana can use the 2010 Equality Act against his former employer. A second hearing will decide whether he was sacked for his beliefs or for misconduct.
What do we not know?
So, we won’t know how this story will end for Casamitjana and the League Against Cruel Sports. The bigger story is what this will mean for wider society, and not just for vegans. This ruling expands the groups that can be protected under the Equalities Act. We may expect many more accusations of discrimination against people’s beliefs in the future. Some organisations may find it difficult to adapt. And will veganism continue to grow and become more mainstream?

Word Watch

Veganism
People may abstain from animal products for different reasons. Some vegans are purely interested in the health benefits of a vegan diet; others are concerned with the environmental impact of animal farming. Ethical vegans believe humans do not have the right to treat animals as things. They do not wear animal-based products or use toiletries that have been tested on animals.
League Against Cruel Sports
An animal welfare charity in the UK, which played an important role in banning fox-hunting in 2004.
2010 Equality Act
This also bans discrimination based on race, age, sexuality and gender.
Vegan Society
A charity that campaigns for veganism.

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