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UK Judge Rules Veganism a “Protected Philosophical Belief” Under the Law

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  • by Diana O. Potter

Some people don’t yet know that veganism isn’t just a list of dos and don’ts but a complete and complex value system that influences every aspect of vegans’ lives.

So far, unfortunately, “some people” means most people. Result? We who follow plant-based lifestyles that include advocacy for the animals and the environment often face criticism, put-downs, and even discrimination for our beliefs.

Sound familiar? Here in the US, yes — but in the UK, “the times, they are a-changing.”

A Legally Protected “Philosophical Belief”

UK vegan Jordi Casamitjana claimed in a landmark legal case that he was fired after telling co-workers that their employer’s pension monies were being invested in unethical funds and companies that experiment on animals.

The employer? Surprisingly, it’s an animal welfare charity, The League Against Cruel Sports. The charity rejected Casamitjana’s claim, leading to the judge’s decision in late 2019 that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief protected under UK law.

In early January 2020, Judge Robin Postle stated he was "satisfied overwhelmingly" that ethical veganism meets the UK Equality Act’s specifications to qualify as a philosophical belief. In his ruling, summarizing the results of an employment tribunal — the UK’s method for adjudicating many types of legal disputes, including employment claims — Judge Postle said that veganism "clearly in my view meets all the criteria; It is a philosophical belief, not just an opinion….It is cogent, serious and important, and worthy of respect in democratic society."

Britain’s Equality Act, made law in 2010, defines "religion or belief" as one of nine "protected characteristics" that also include race, sex, pregnancy and maternity, and sexuality. The act thus makes it illegal for employers to discriminate for any of the nine reasons.

Casamitjana brought his case to court with the goal of forcing the Equality Act to include veganism as a protected philosophical belief, and for now, he is succeeding.

For Casamitjana to qualify for protection under the Equality Act, his attorneys were required to prove that veganism is "a belief and not an opinion," that it has "a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance," and that it is "worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not [in] conflict with the fundamental rights of others."

Satisfaction — and a Forward Look

Casamitjana expressed his satisfaction with the judgment: "I'm extremely happy with the outcome of this hearing and for the words of the judge who clearly understood what ethical veganism is. I didn't expect to have a judgment today, but the overwhelming weight of the evidence we have provided seems to have been sufficient for the judge to conclude that I'm the ethical vegan I say I am, and that ethical veganism is a protected nonreligious philosophical belief."

In a further statement ringing with hope, he noted, "I am not alone. Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans. Hopefully, from my dismissal, something positive will come by ensuring [that] other ethical vegans are better protected in the future."

The charity does not contest the animal welfare aspect of the issue on which the judge ruled, said Rhys Wyborn, a member of the defense for The League Against Cruel Sports. Wyborn  underscored the league’s intention to pursue the “real crux of the matter,” the reason(s) for Casamitjana’s dismissal, which the League believes was “due to his misconduct and not the belief he holds."

Whatever the eventual outcome of this case, it represents yet another step forward in securing veganism’s place as a major force for change in our too-often-unheeding world.

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