by Marcia Mueller
A group in Canada named Animal Justice has been working to have veganism declared a “creed” and thus be closer to various protections under Ontario Human Rights law.
In 2011 the Ontario Human Rights Commission was updating some of its official policies. They questioned whether “creed” should include “secular, moral, or ethical belief systems” that are nonreligious in nature. They refer to the idea that beliefs such as animal rights can be more important to some people than organized religion.
Members of the Animal Justice group assembled to convince the Commission that ethical veganism deserves protection as a creed. The new policy states that a creed does not have to be limited to organized religion: “Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity.” Noted was that this would include a belief based on avoiding harm to animals, the foundation of ethical veganism.
Since many in the animal rights movement already live in this manner, what would be the advantages to declaring veganism a creed or religion?
For one thing it would give vegans some protections, as well as legitimacy. The Commission’s policy would provide guidance to employers, service providers, hospitals, etc., to accommodate requirements based on creed. The following are examples:
1. A university or school would have an obligation to accommodate a biology student who refuses to perform animal dissection because of her creed.
2. An employer would have an obligation to accommodate an employee who cannot wear an animal-based component of a uniform, like leather or fur, based on his creed.
3. An employer must ensure corporate culture does not exclude a vegetarian or vegan employee, such as holding regular company networking events at a steakhouse, instead of providing additional, inclusive opportunities.
A court in Ohio recently heard the case of a hospital customer service representative who refused to get a flu shot because the vaccine requires eggs to produce. The judge refused to dismiss the case, saying it was possible the plaintiff’s veganism could be a moral or ethical belief. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it would treat veganism as a belief that entitles it to reasonable accommodation.
Some argue that veganism is not a religion because it does not have a comprehensive theology, specific deity, and or established place of worship.
However, there are counterarguments. Veganism functions as a religion in the way it guides moral behavior. Ethical vegans adhere to a lifestyle that avoids all harm to living beings, and most ethical vegans care about the environment. Many vegans have abandoned organized religion because of its failure to give animals moral standing or condemn harming them
Veganism has a prominent place in the history of religion, particularly in Jainism and in some Buddhist and Hindu sects in the doctrine of “ahimsa.”
In Defense of animals suggests that the progression from “shallow” to “deep” veganism corresponds to other religions’ stages of spiritual growth.
Veganism is developing its own literature in the works of Father Andrew Lindzey (an Anglican priest), for example: “Animal Theology,” and “Creatures of the Same God.” Books by other authors include “Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology,” and “The Souls of Animals.”
There are also prayers books for animals: “Blessing the Animals,” “Earth Prayers,” “Animal Prayer Guide,” “Peace to All Beings,” and “Prayers for Animals.
(Yes, some people who have left organized religion have become atheists. Others believe we got it wrong when we developed our conception of a deity who didn’t care about nonhuman animals and thus figure praying can’t hurt.)
There may not be any specific church services for vegans, but the group In Defense of Animals has a vegan spirituality network. In some places people get together personally. The rest of us have teleconferences on the second Thursday of the month.
So a case can be made for the movement to be declared a religion or a creed. There may be a number of reasons it would be helpful, including giving it a legitimacy and protection to live our beliefs involving food, dress, and academic coursework without fear of retaliation.
It may be an idea whose time has come.
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