Veganism set to achieve 'religion or belief' status in court
An employment tribunal has sparked a recategorisation of veganism to protect those who feel most vulnerable to discrimination, but is this progress?
Whilst the rest of us were preparing for the Christmas period, a controversy was playing out in the employment tribunal between the League Against Cruel Sports and their former employee, Jordi Casamitjana. Casamitjana had recently been fired for ‘gross misconduct’, but he wasn’t going to take it lying down.
This dismissal was due to a disagreement between the employee and employer, as he had discovered that they had invested their pension fund into companies that support animal testing – a move at odds to the moral code of both the institution and Casamitjana. He informed his superiors, who did nothing. When Casamitjana began sharing his findings with employees he got called into the office for dismissal.
Casamitjana contested this dismissal on ground-breaking terms. He argued he had been discriminated against for being an ‘ethical vegan’. This means that he considers his veganism to be not simply a diet, but a lifestyle – a set of ethics, even. Ethical veganism determines a rejection of wool, animal tested products and anything else that exploits or uses animals in any way.
For his claim of discrimination to hold water in court, and to be protected under the Equality Act 2010, Casamitjana’s self-determination must be classified as a ‘religion or belief’. It would consequently be ranked on an equal level as the nine existing categories:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- sexual orientation
To attain this status, veganism must meet a number of stipulations. It must:
- be genuinely held
- be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with fundamental rights of others
- be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
That’s certainly a lot of hoops to be jumped through, but the likelihood of this case’s success is high. It has the full backing of the Vegan Society, whose head of campaigns, Louise Davies, said: ‘this could be a landmark ruling that will not only recognise the validity and importance of veganism but also confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously.’
Is this case, if successful, a step towards protecting what some perceive to be a vulnerable and targeted group in society? Or will this cause, as predicted by Nick Spencer from Theos thinktank, a spiral of unrestricted recognition that will in turn devalue any other recognition and lead to increased oppression?
Will legal protection improve the life of ethical vegans, or will it, as Spencer warns, create a society in which ‘we're all turned into rights bearers, my rights clashing with your rights’. This would risk causing a continual and increasing reliance on the courts to sort differences, ‘and that can become oppressive for everybody.’
'bloody rabbit food': the kind of thing that would be classified as hate speech once veganism is protected by law.