U.K., meet your newest religious belief: Veganism.
A court in the U.K. just ruled that veganism constitutes a genuine philosophical belief, protected by law.
The case was brought by animal rights activist and ethical vegan Jordi Casamitjana, who was let go from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal rights charity. Casamitjana claims he blew the whistle on the organization's pension funds, which he says were being invested in companies that experiment on animals, an obvious violation of his belief in ethical veganism. His former employer claims he was let go for gross incompetence.
So Casamitjana brought his beef to court, hoping to get a ruling that his two decades of ethical veganism is tantamount to a “philosophical or religious belief”, a protected class in Britain under the Equality Act of 2010. Last week, the courts agreed that ethical veganism does indeed meet the high standards of philosophical or religious belief, and should be protected.
What is Ethical Veganism?
In the world of veganism, there are ethical vegans and dietary vegans. The difference, primarily, is motive. Dietary vegans eat a plant-based diet and don’t eat animal products, including meat and dairy. This is often and primarily done for health reasons. Ethical vegans take that a step further, also opposing any products that exploit animals in any way. That includes the obvious, from avoiding wearing fur, leather, wool, and silk, or avoiding make-up brands that test on animals. But most ethical vegans also avoid some things you might not even think about, like avoiding zoos and aquariums, or even avoiding certain vaccines, like the flu vaccine, which is sometimes grown in the egg of a hen.
Veganism has grown in both popularity and acceptance in recent years. What was once a very niche diet is now very mainstream. In most cities, there is at least one vegan restaurant. Even large chains, cognizant of the growth of vegan and vegetarian customers, offer plant-based alternatives.
Currently, anywhere from 2% to 7% of the U.S. population identifies as vegan.
Don’t Have a Cow, Man
So how did veganism grow from diet to philosophical belief? The bar to qualify as a religious or philosophical belief under the U.K.’s Equality Act is quite high. The belief must be "worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others."
It was a gamble, but Mr. Casamitjana’s case paid off. After a two-day employment tribunal, Judge Robin Postle ruled that Casamitjana’s ethical veganism does indeed meet the high standards of philosophical or religious belief, and is therefore now protected against employment discrimination.
With Casamitjana’s success in the courts, the U.K. will be one of the first countries in the world to have legal protections for vegans.
What do you think? Should veganism seriously be compared to belief in God? Does this ruling make a mockery out of the beliefs of others?
Is veganism comparable to religion?