UK court to consider if veganism is a "philosophical belief" akin to a religion

The story from the BBC.

(Mods - please feel free to delete this if you consider the subject matter to be too close to the “no politics” rule. I know it isnt politics but…)

Yep, saw it this morning. Wouldn’t want to touch this one with a barge pole.

Its never about what its about.


What an odd story. It certainly doesn’t sound like he was fired for being vegan, but rather for telling colleagues about their employer’s investments. Which doesn’t really sound like “gross misconduct” - shouldn’t people have the right to know where their pension money is coming from? As a college student, I demonstrated against my university’s investments in South Africa during apartheid, so what this guy did looks like garden-variety ethical behavior to me.

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Interesting. Given that veganism isn’t merely a “dietary choice” but a much broader philosophical outlook, as it applies to this particular case, I don’t see what it has to do with “food” at all… But that aside, I’m wondering if the court has actually agreed to decide this specific question, or will. In the US, it would generally be considered irrelevant unless the court found as a threshold matter that the plaintiff was in fact fired because of his veganism… Particularly since the defendant apparently isn’t contesting the question whether veganism is a “philosophical belief system” within the meaning of the relevant statute. Do UK courts decide uncontested questions of law these days? (Which is unthinkable under traditional common law principles.) Who’s gong to be arguing the other side of that question? Are there other parties to the case the article doesn’t mention? WIll the Government being weighing in on that question? Or… ?

As to the broader question, whether people do or don’t have the right to know where their pension funds are being invested is also a “separate” question, legally speaking, and I have no idea what UK law, this company’s, or the plaintiff’s contractual obligations say about that. If they don’t already, arguably they should have that right, but that also has nothing to do with “veganism”…

Yes. This case is a good example.

My guess is that the tribunal will not find in the plaintiff’s favour and the appeal process will start, probably ending in the Supreme Court and, possibly, the European Court of Human Rights.

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The World is afire with hatreds, and this simpleton won’t ride a bus because it kills bugs. AND HE GETS A COURT HEARING!

We’re on a Hellbound train.

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“The League Against Cruel Sports is Britain’s leading charity that works to stop animals being persecuted, abused and killed for sport.”

More problem for this charity than the guy. Don’t know why they fired him to get more press attention, so dumb! And why they hired him in the first place.

The followup

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I guess wrong.

I look forward (or not) to the next court case where a decision has to be made as to whether someone’s veganism is ethical veganism or just plain old boring traditional veganism.

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Hmmm, are we waiting for cases like parents suing school canteens not to serve strict vegan food for their vegan children?

Although I’ve heard cases like an Italian vegan couple being sued by the government for feeding their infant with vegetable milk.

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The plaintiff won

Wrong about the outcome, but not wrong about the “weird” deciding of questions of law that weren’t contested and that may or may never actually be relevant to the “case before the court tribunal”.

I realize that while US law is based on British (mostly English) common law, the systems have evolved differently, but to my US-common-law based way of legal thinking, the fact that they actually decided this question “on its merits”, apparently without any real “argument” of the issue, borders on bizarre…

But I will say that as far as the merits are concerned , it seems reasonable to me, and deciding whether a person’s espousal of specific beliefs is or is not “legitimate” is not a novel legal concept, at least not in US courts… (There are fairly well-developed lines of cases involving prison inmates’ espousal of various religious beliefs and accomodations they might entitle the prisoners to, for example… And there are probably similar cases in employment and academic-related caselaw…)

ETA: Also, I didn’t realize his case was before some sort of “employment tribunal”. Except for (usually) arbitration in cases involving unionized employees, wrongful termination cases in the US are generally heard in courts of “general” jurisdiction, so I guess this isn’t quite the same as one of those courts deciding the question. But it still seems odd for any tribunal to decide uncontested matters that may or may not actually be relevant to the ultimate decisions they’re called on to render…

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The plaintiff won

Well, yes, but no. He “won” an uncontested ruling that veganism (or at least one version of it) constitutes a protected philosophical belief within the meaning of the relevant statute, but at least as far as the second linked article reports, it’s not clear that he has even “won” a ruling that his own beliefs are legitimately-held, and much more importantly, that he was in fact fired because them. So he’s “won” what in practical terms is barely even a minor opening skirmish (considering that the defendant didn’t even contest the point), but he has far from “won the war”…

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It is same as Muslim children or Jewish children dietary restrictions.

Public school budgets are tight and this is an added expense.

Many religious parents send their children to private schools.

Vegan children: This is complicated as it is expensive to furnish plant based food ítems to a large group of children.

However, they have a right to feed their kids in their manner however, they can also bring their own lunches to school which would be a wise solution and prevent the schools from added expenses.

From a medical point of view, I’ve heard advice that children could not be vegan until they reach adolescent age.

I do not wish to discuss the merits of this case because that is bound to tip over into the “politcal”. However, IMO, the tribunal’s decision doesnt just border on the bizarre, it is bizarre. The difficulty now is that there is possibly no appeal procedure that permits a full consideration of whether “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief within the terms of the Equality Act. No doubt we will have to wait for the inevitable further cases to follow along the lines of the several we have had from fundamentalist Christians.

As for this case, as you point out, this is only the “opening skirmish”. The tribunal will now consider the man’s actual dismissal. From what I’ve read, the employer will say he was dismissed for “gross misconduct” and that had nothing to do with his beliefs. His argument will be that it had everything to do with his beliefs. Assuming he loses and appeals, it is possible a higher court may be able to test the “philosophical belief” argument but I have insufficient legal knowledge to know whether that may be the case.

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I have no idea how these employment tribunal cases fit it into the overall UK legal system. In the US, arbitration is a “private” proceeding and prior decisions can   impact future arbitration proceedings, especially within the same specific framework (between members of the same union(s) and contracting employers, or within a general industry as persuasive   but not mandatory “authority”). But they have little if any bearing on the formal judicial interpretation of statutes in general. Not to mention that while “pure politics” plays a role (albeit sub rosa) in how cases are reviewed on appeal, a court’s “opinion” on questions of law that have no actual bearing on the outcome of a case have, at least in principle, no precedential value at all, even if its “decision” in a case isn’t itself reversed…

I am not a doctor nor am I, in the medical professions.

I am uncertain whether a vegan kid under 18 can receive or supply the protein needed for a balanced diet, whether it be flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, carnivores etcetra.

Beans are a high source of protein however, wild salmon Omega is vital to the immune system.

I believe a medical report from the family doctor after exams were done, would be required.

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It does seem odd, as riding a bus or métro/subway/underground carries far less risk of killing humans and other beings than driving a car. But I do think veganism can be considered an ethical system akin to a religion (I’m not vegan, and while reducing red meat for health and environmental reasons, not a vegetarian). We don’t have to agree with religions to consider the ethics of believers worthy of concern - within reasonable limits.