Is Your Philosophy of Life Legally Robust?

Below is an example of how the capacity to articulate and build a cogent, serious, coherent philosophical conviction might give you a legal advantage in the future, when needed.

In 2019, in Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited and others, an Employment Tribunal rejected that vegetarianism was capable of being a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. The Claimant, a barman/waiter, alleged that he had been bullied during the course of his employment because he was a vegetarian. The Claimant’s vegetarianism stemmed from his belief ‘that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food.’ It was accepted that the Claimant was a vegetarian, that he had a genuine belief in his vegetarianism, and that the practice of vegetarianism was worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity. However, the tribunal concluded that the belief in vegetarianism was an opinion and view point, which could not be described as a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, merely a life style choice. Finally, the tribunal concluded that the Claimant’s belief did not attain the required level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance as vegetarians could adopt the practice for many different reasons such as lifestyle, health, diet, concern about the way animals are raised or indeed, personal taste. Further, the tribunal stated that the belief did not have a similar status or cogency to that of religion.

In contrast to Conisbee, ethical veganism was held to be a philosophical belief in the subsequent Employment Tribunal case, Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports, decided in January 2020. The Claimant alleged that he had been dismissed after he wrote to colleagues advising them that their pensions were being invested in non-ethical funds, specifically pharmaceutical and tobacco companies known to engage in animal testing, and the only ethical fund offered by their employer offered worse rates of return than other ethical funds on the market. The Claimant alleged that the investments were ‘directly contradictory to the reason for the existence and values of the organisation.’

The tribunal found that ethical veganism was more than an opinion and viewpoint stating:

…ethical veganism carries with it an important moral essential. That is so even if the Claimant may transgress on occasions. It is clear it is founded upon a longstanding tradition recognising the moral consequences of non-human animal sentience which has been upheld by both religious and atheists alike. Furthermore, there is no doubt that the Claimant personally holds ethical veganism as a belief. He has clearly dedicated himself to that belief throughout what he eats, where he works, what he wears, the products he uses, where he shops and with whom he associates. It clearly is not simply a viewpoint, but a real and genuine belief and not just some irrational opinion.

read more here (in A ‘Life-Style Choice’ or a Philosophical Belief? The Argument for Veganism and Vegetarianism to be a Protected Philosophical Belief and the Position in England and Wales, by McKeown and Dunn)

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