Veganism as a Legally Protected Religion

Authored by: Lisa Johnson

The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Animal Ethics

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138592728
eBook ISBN: 9780429489846
Adobe ISBN:


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Ethical veganism is recognized by the European Court of Human Rights as a protected belief within Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is recognized as a protected philosophical belief by Britain’s Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. However, for those who wish to claim it as such, its status as a protected religion or creed in the United States is uncertain at best. In a very recent U.S. federal case, ethical veganism was recognized as “plausibly” a religious practice, since it is a moral or ethical belief held with the strength of a traditional religious view. Moreover, the so-called Seeger/Welsh test developed during the Vietnam era by the U.S. Supreme Court also supports treatment of ethical veganism as a religion. Despite the foregoing, ethical veganism has at times failed to pass certain judicial “tests” to be recognized as a religion or creed, which has resulted in lawful discrimination against persons for refusing to participate in activities that are inconsistent with their beliefs. The threshold question regarding whether a belief is a religion or creed, and, therefore, entitled to protection, is an area fraught with interpretive difficulties in the United States and its many state jurisdictions. To exacerbate this issue, interpretations regarding whether beliefs of those who identify as ethical vegans or ethical vegetarians have been made by judges who are not members of those belief systems, with little inquiry and a lot of conjecture into what comprises those belief systems or whether a belief system even exists. A survey of 190 adult vegans or vegetarians in the United States was conducted during fall 2013. The survey questions aligned with the U.S. Supreme Court Seeger/Welsh test and the Adams’ test. This work presents the results of the survey. At the time that this writing is submitted, the author has not yet completed the survey, but it is expected that the data will demonstrates that some vegans and/or vegetarian respondents profess beliefs concordant with the definition of “religion” according to the United States federal government. If so, ethical veganism and/or ethical vegetarianism should be considered as a protected characteristic in the United States and its many states’ jurisdictions. If the data does not support that assertion, the paper will focus on whether the definition of “religion” or “creed” is unnecessarily restrictive, thereby excluding philosophical and moral convictions from protected status, and the social consequences of such a policy.

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