Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter For The Animals

Animalista Untamed

Sunflower Vegan Society logoYou will probably be surprised to learn that our rights as vegans actually began as long ago as 1948, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, just four years after the ‘birth’ of veganism with Donald Watson’s invention of the V-word. Both events world-changing, but entirely unconnected of course!

There are 30 Articles in the UDHR, but Article 18 is the most important one for vegans. Under Article 18 people are entitled to their beliefs and have the right to both practice and teach others about their beliefs. And beliefs that qualify for protection under human rights law concern a life lived with deep convictions, which can be religious or non-religious in nature.

A few months ago Care2 published the good news that Ontarian vegans’ legal status has gone up. My apologies for being a little late with the news. I’m afraid this particular post’s been sitting neglected in my drafts…

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3 thoughts on “Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter For The Animals

  1. Excellent summation of this important issue! Declaring veganism a religion is a matter of social justice for ethical vegans. Perhaps of greater importance is that veganism as an accepted religion would give us a more powerful voice in our fight for animals.

    Some of the work has already been done. For example, in the interim between the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2016 Ontario decision on veganism and religion, there have been relevant court decisions in the United States.

    In 1961, in Torcaso v. Watkins, the Supreme Court expanded its definition of religion. The Court stated that “the establishment clause prevents government from aiding those ‘religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.’” That decision clarified that Buddhism, Jainism, and secular humanism are religions.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “to be a bona fide religious belief entitled to protection under either the First Amendment or Title VII, a belief must be sincerely held and within the believer’s own scheme of things religious.”

    In 1985 the District Court of Virginia, in Dettmer v. Landon, declared Wicca a religion for First Amendment purposes. This was followed by similar rulings in other state courts which allowed Wicca religious status.
    In a 1970 ruling, Welsh v. the United States, the Supreme Court “essentially merged religion with deeply and sincerely held moral and ethical beliefs.”

    So it appears that legal groundwork has been laid for accepting veganism as a religion. The rulings on Wicca may not be the best analogy to focus on, since that religion comes with the baggage of its Halloween association, as well as the notorious witch trials in Europe and America and the animosity of Christianity to any “worship” of nature.

    But the examples of Buddhism and Jainism as religions are extremely useful. Buddhism and Jainism began in approximately the 5th century BCE. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, and Jainism evolved with series of Tirthankaras, or leaders, particularly the 24th and last, Mahavira. Those religions have two significant attributes to offer as examples for veganism as a religion: They do not depend on worship of a god, and their central tenet is nonviolence, or ahimsa. However, unlike the three major religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the Buddhist and Jain concept of nonviolence does not stop at the human species boundary but, instead, includes ALL living beings, whose welfare must be considered. Jain monks sweep the path ahead of them as they walk to avoid harming even insects. Jains adhere to a vegan lifestyle, including the foods they eat, the kinds of jobs they do, the clothes they wear, and the charities they support, including animal hospitals and sanctuaries in India.

    So, considering the First Amendment of the Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and multiple court rulings that declare religion does not depend monotheism, or any theism, but includes deeply held ethical beliefs, vegans should have hope.

    As noted in the Animalista Untamed blog, vegan religion will satisfy the social justice issues of making a meatless diet available in prisons, hospitals, and restaurants, allowing vegans to refuse dissection and other educational practices that harm animals, and excusing them from getting vaccines that depend on eggs for production, etc.

    But one of the best effects might be our ability to fight for animals.

    For one thing, veganism as a declared religion will give our lifestyle a credibility and legitimacy that it does not currently have in the eyes of many. As noted our adversaries depend on mockery and ridicule to undermine our beliefs. We’ve all seen such derisive comments sections and articles: Vegans are anemic wraiths too weak from their self-induced malnutrition to have real jobs or lives; they’re mentally unstable masochists who turn down “real food” like steaks for tofu and celery; they’re pro-choice misanthropists who hate people and love animals; vegans kill lettuce and carrots.

    If veganism is given the status of religion, such attacks will be more unacceptable and be can be called out as discrimination. Instead of diminishing vegans and their beliefs through disdain and mockery, those who oppose us will have to go beyond name calling and actually produce a rational argument on their own behalf or be silent.

    But as members of a religion, vegans can fight anthropocentric law, religion, and corporate culture by referring to their spiritual belief in compassion and the rights of animals to be free from human abuse.

    Politically, we can hope for help from progressives, since they are usually more animal friendly than conservatives. They will more likely recognize vegans as a minority who have been denigrated for their beliefs and have experienced discrimination.

    We should be able to depend on support from some animal organizations. PETA, Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and In Defense of Animals (who runs vegan spirituality programs), seem likely allies since they are animal rights oriented.

    Maybe what we need most is a plan. We can’t rely on petitions alone. And no social justice movement achieved its demands by not fighting for them. Thousands took to the streets, made sure their senators and representatives heard from them, and boycotted businesses.

    What will our plan be and when do we get going?


  2. The only drawback I see is that non-vegans will have an additional vantage point from which to demand respect for their meat-is-okay magical beliefs: “You respect my religion and I’ll respect yours, or are you Hitler? Did I mention Hitler? Got Hitler?”


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