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Famous Vegans for whom this website has a separate page:
In classifying Veganism as a religion, it should be noted that there are various definitions of "religion", some of which do not apply fully to Veganism. The phrase "ultimate concern" is often used as a concise definition of "religion." We are using the Webster's Dictionary definition which defines a "religion" as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith." Even more importantly for the purposes of this website, Veganism is clearly a religion from an academic sociological perspective, which was described by Emile Durkheim (Elementary Forms, p. 62; Adams and Sydie, p. 103):
A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden - beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community all those who adhere to them.
In this sociological sense, Veganism actually functions for many people more as a religion than any traditionally recognized "religion." For example, approximately 50% of Americans who identify themselves as "Episcopalians" are not actually members of any congregation (Kosmin et al, CUNY, NSRI, 1990 and ARIS, 2001). These individuals are "nominal" Episcopalians only, having inherited this denominational affiliation from their parents or grandparents, but they never attend worship services (except perhaps at Christmas and/or Easter), and make no significant modifications to their behavior based on their status as Episcopalians. By contrast, Vegans by definition are people whose chosen belief system has caused them to make radical alterations to their behavior relative to the behavior of mainstream culture. Vegans also subscribe to many more distinctive beliefs and philosophies than nominal adherents of traditionally recognized religious denominations.
Vegan leaders have gone on record stating that Veganism constitutes a religion for many of its adherents. The Vegan Sourcebook was described by Tom Regan, one of the world's most prominent and influential Vegans as "the most comprehensive account of veganism seen to date," (Tom Regan, Ph.D., in a brief review quoted on the back cover of the book). The Vegan Sourcebook accurately captures how Vegans view their own belief system in the following passage. From: J. S. Tepaniak, The Vegan Sourcebook, page 158:
Because veganism is so all-encompassing, it is not surprising that its principles form the core value system for a large number of practitioners. Some people refer to veganism as their 'religion' because the tenets of vegan practice and belief create a compelling moral code on a par with any religious doctrine or theology.
As is the case with many religions, Veganism is not specifically concerned with explicitly theological questions (i.e., consideration of the nature of deity). Definitions of "religion" which require such a characteristic obviously lie outside the sociological definition of religion, which focuses more on any moral, ethical, philosophical system which is most important to an individual, whatever that may be. Veganism is vitally concerned with moral and ethical issues, which is a major province of religion. Theologians, clergy and sociologists recognize that specifically theological questions constitute only a subset of the much broader realm of religion.
The importance of faith and belief within Veganism is another one of the movement's explicitly religious characteristics. Veganism espouses a large number of restrictions, taboos, beliefs, and practices which distinguish it from mainstream society. None of the distinctive Vegan beliefs have any basis in empirical science. Vegans accept these beliefs on faith and based on the authority of the Vegan leaders, philosophers and the broader Vegan community. Alternatively, individuals who have already adopted particular Vegan beliefs on their own may be subsequently drawn to Veganism in a quest for fellowship with like-minded individuals and a desire for a sense of community.
In pointing out that distinctive Vegan beliefs have no scientific basis, it is important to note that this is an observation and not a criticism. All humans (except some sociopaths) hold beliefs which have no scientific basis. Concepts such as as love, racial tolerance, forgiveness, peace, individual property ownership, art, etc. likewise are immaterial concepts which encompass moral, ethical and religious considerations which can not be mathematically replicated or explained as purely scientific phenomena. What makes Veganism a distinct religion and not simply a general moral principle (such as racial tolerance) is that its core non-scientifically-based beliefs and practices are not generally accepted by mainstream culture, but are only subscribed to by Vegans. It should also be remembered that many Vegan beliefs are well supported by scientific research, but these are not distinctive beliefs, as these concepts are already widely understood and accepted by the scientific community and in some instances by mainstream culture as well.
As is the case with many religions, adherents of Veganism are actively interested in spreading their beliefs and practices to others. This is often regarded as one of the distinguishing characteristics between an Ethical Vegan (especially a person who is a Vegan in a religious sense) and a person who is simply a vegetarian. A vegetarian (or lifestyle-only vegan) has little concern with whether other people are vegetarians. But for an Ethical Vegan (which one could refer to as a "true Vegan"), it is morally imperative not only that they live as a Vegan, but also that they encourage others to do so as well.
The desire to evangelize Veganism is one of the reasons why Vegan leaders and activists have actively discouraged the classification of "Veganism" as a religion. Vegans desire to have Veganism be accepted as a natural, logical, universal development for everybody, and not seen as simply yet another "alternative religion." By avoiding identification as a religion, Vegan leaders believe they will have more access to public forums such as schools and government programs which may not allow specifically religious material. Vegans couch their efforts in terms similar to earlier broad-based moral campaigns, such as promotion of racial tolerance, prohibition, women's suffrage, etc. In fact, Vegans are united with Animal Rights activists in their efforts to draw moral parallels between racism and their beliefs in the concept of "speciesism." Vegan public relations and evangelistic efforts mirror those of many past religious movements which sought to appeal universally in part by avoiding classification as a religion. Transcendental Meditation, for example, was previously practiced in many American public schools and sponsored by other government programs because it downplayed its explicitly Hindu religious origins and identified itself as a scientific practice. Falun Gong/Falun Dafa, Vedanta, Christian Science, Kabbalah, Scientology, Freudianism, astrology, Jungianism, Juche, and Creationism are some of the many other movements which have at various times identified themselves in scientific terms downplayed and downplayed or simply denied religious connections in efforts to gain widespread appeal. Veganism differs from some of these movements in that it is not explicitly tied to an established world religion (such as the way that Kabbalah is the mystical science of Judaism, or Falun Gong is a reform movement within Chinese traditional religion). The origins of Veganism lie more in secular social movements, and in this it is more closely related to the Animal Rights movement, radical environmentalism and other movements which do have genuine broad appeal across adherents of all religions, but which also attract a core of zealous believers and converts for whom the movement as a religion.
Vegans themselves are not in agreement about whether they should call Veganism a religion. The general consensus among Vegan leadership is to avoid such classification, but other Vegans believe such classification would be beneficial both in terms of legal benefits as well as in accurately portraying the depth and sincerity of their belief. Leaving aside lifestyle-only vegans who are principally adherents of other faiths, the religiously committed core Vegans who disagree about whether or not to identify Veganism as a religion are otherwise indistinguishable from each other with regards to their practice of and belief in Veganism. These Vegans who disagree about whether Veganism is a religion do not differ in the way that they are Vegans. They differ only on what is really a political, linguistic or public relations question.
Frequently, when a person states that Veganism (or some other shared philosophical/ethical/moral system that is deeply meaningful to them and which guides their behavior and lifestyle) is "not a religion," what they really mean is: "I find the religious denomination that I was raised in unsatisfying, or I no longer believe in it, or my parents were so lax in their practice of it that I never really learned much about it and was little impressed by it. That is what I think of with regards to the word religion, and that is what I want to avoid. This new belief system is one that I cherish, it is true, and and it is definitely not what I was raised in or what I see people who I strongly disagree with engaged in, therefore it is not of the same category, i.e., a religion."
A more objective, neutral, practical and sociologically-based definition observes that any system of belief and practice which is deeply meaningful - especially when adherents believe that it is absolutely true and universally applicable - is in fact a religion. Any such system, whether it is Christianity or Communism or Confucianism, is a religion, regardless of its specific doctrines and practices.
Allison, a 27-year-old Vegan from Toronto, Ontario, captured some of the very pragmatic concerns that Vegans have with regards to religious identification when she wrote (22 September 2004):
I think it would be devastating for the movement if veganism were to be recognized as a religion. We'd have an even harder time than we already do trying to get people who already follow a religion to go vegan. Enough Christians think [it] is New Age-y and against God's will already. You call it a new "religion" and it becomes nearly impossible to reconcile with Christianity, Judaism or Islam.
Vegan has something of a duel self-identity. It is both a pan-religious movement which seeks to instill its values in followers of all religions, and it is also a distinct religion itself. The Vegan website VeganSource.com has a large titled about "Biospirituality" (http://www.vegsource.com/biospirituality/religion.html; viewed 15 December 2005) which features individual pages promoting the compatibility of Veganism with the following specific religions:
The importance of using a variety of techniques for spreading Veganism, including speaking in terms familiar to non-Vegans in their own current religious context, was summarized by the founders of the "Vegan Outreach" website (http://www.veganoutreach.org/advocacy/meaningfullife.html; viewed 15 December 2005):
How to Promote Veganism
The rationale outlined above seems logical, but we didn't arrive at these conclusions overnight. Before we founded Vegan Outreach, Jack Norris and I pursued various other forms of animal advocacy - from letter writing campaigns to scores of protests and everything in between, including civil disobedience.
Even within the realm of promoting veganism, there are many different opinions and options. For example, the Christian Vegetarian Association works within the context of the most commonly practiced religion in the U.S. Their booklet, Honoring God's Creation, (formerly, What Would Jesus Eat... Today?) reaches out to people through their existing ethical framework. This approach allows the CVA to advocate - quite successfully - to a vast audience for whom other approaches would be less effective.
Other advocacy organizations focus on harnessing the power of video footage. Some groups take out free spots on public access stations, and sometimes can afford to purchase commercial time. Different groups take the video footage right to the public via "FaunaVision vans" (equipped with large T.V.s, portable power units, and speakers) and "Faunettes" (smaller portable units that can be wheeled on sidewalks). These act like magnets, attracting people who may otherwise ignore someone leafleting.
The rationale behind avoiding the "religion" label was further explained in 13 May 2002 issue of the "Vegan Outreach" website's newsletter (http://www.veganoutreach.org/enewsletter/20020512.html; viewed 15 December 2005):
Below are some of the comments we've received, followed by our responses.
Veganism is a religion -- purity and consistency are of the highest importance.
Because "religion" is a sort of trump card in areas of law, under certain circumstances, it could prove beneficial to have the courts and government respect veganism as a religion. However, in the interest of promoting veganism to the public, we believe the animals are best served by avoiding the label of religion. Anti-racism generally isn't considered a religion; anti-speciesism needn't be either.
From a sociological perspective, how can one determine if a Vegan is a lifestyle-only Vegan or an adherent for whom Veganism is their principle religion? The key is determining which belief system or moral/ethical community is most important to that person, as demonstrated by their behavior and personal philosophy. A good rule of thumb is that if a person (1) identifies themself as a Vegan, (2) regularly spends time participating in Vegan activities (such as attending Vegan meetings, attending organized anti-speciesism or animal rights events, or considerable Vegan-based Internet activity) and (3) says that they belong to no other religion or "no religion" at all, then that person is probably most accurately classified as a person whose religious affiliation is Veganism. If a person identifies themself as a Vegan but is an active adherent of an organized religion, then Veganism is probably not that person's religion at all, and is simply an aspect of their lifestyle. Such is the case with adherents of a number of religions which specifically recommend vegetarian diets, including Seventh-day Adventists and many branches or denominations of Hinduism and Buddhism. It is quite common for Seventh-day Adventists, for example, to be vegetarians and many are even Vegans, but active Seventh-day Adventists should never be classified as "Vegan" with regards to their religious affiliation. Veganism is simply one component of their actual religious affiliation. People in these two ends of the Vegan religious spectrum are the simplest to classify. The more complicated cases involve individuals who identify a specific religion or denomination as their religious affiliation, but exhibit little or no participation in that group or behavioral modification based on membership in that group, while at the same time identifying themselves as Vegans and living an active Vegan lifestyle, including subscribing to Vegan beliefs. In cases such as these, both the person's stated religious affiliation as well as Veganism should probably be noted.
|While the foundation [of Ethical Veganism] is not on a supreme being... it rests on a philosophy revealed by Peter Singer much like Buddhism was a philosophy revealed by Siddhartha.|
The several tests mentioned in the opinion culminate in this court's conclusion, which is Judge Adams' three-prong test, beginning on page 34. [Opn., 34-36] "First, a religion addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters." While this may not be simple veganism, it is Ethical Veganism. Ethical Veganism asks what is the ultimate meaning of life and concludes veganism in the broadest sense, compassion for all life, amelioration of suffering, advocacy of happiness and cooperation. The query and conclusion makes it ethical. These are similar core tenets to Quakers and Buddhists and countless other denominations of a myriad of religions. While the foundation is not on a supreme being as the Quakers rely upon, it rests on a philosophy revealed by Peter Singer much like Buddhism was a philosophy revealed by Siddhartha. "Imponderable matters" is a strange qualifier as members of all sorts of traditional religions would claim their religion is ponderable--able to be precisely evaluated. Not that they would necessarily claim they would succeed. There are, for example, Christians who rely heavily on faith and those who rely heavily on formal logic, and that is why there are Christian scholars. The former claim religion is imponderable, the latter do not. If the court is asking for epistemology, the elemental meaning of Ethical Veganism, it may very well be imponderable depending on who is asked. Importantly, it should be noted that the court incorrectly states that "There is no apparent spiritual or otherworldly component to plaintiff's beliefs." [Opn., p. 35]. Yet, the court earlier in its opinion cites to just such allegations contained in the Plaintiff's complaint, that "He lives each aspect of his life in accordance with this system of spiritual beliefs[, and] [t]his belief system guides the way that he lives his life[, and] [Plaintiff's] beliefs are spiritual in nature and set a course for his entire way of life[, and] he would disregard elementary self-interest in preference to transgressing these tenets." [Opn., p. 3, emphasis added; See also Appellant's Appendix ("AA"), p. 000002-000003, ¶4]. Further, in the complaint as quoted in the opinion [Opn., pp. 3-4 See also AA, p. 000002-000003, ¶4], "violating natural law, foundational creeds, beliefs spiritual in nature, disregarding elementary self-interest, guiding the way I live my life" are all fundamental. "Natural law, foundational creeds, and beliefs spiritual in nature" are addressing ultimate questions. "Natural law, spiritual beliefs" are matters addressing deep and imponderable matters. Plaintiff has therefore satisfied the first prong of this court's new definition of religious creed.
"Second, a religion is comprehensive in nature; it consists of a belief-system as opposed to an isolated teaching." The distinction between "comprehensive nature" and "an isolated teaching" is a question of fact. Taoism, for example, has the isolated teaching of balance which is applied comprehensively to the universe. Otherwise, is the court claiming that simple religions are unreasonable because they are not complicated? This would topple any new religion because traditional religions have hundreds or thousands of years to become comprehensive. This may be an unconstitutional test of reasonableness. Ethical Veganism is comprehensive to the Plaintiff, extending to every aspect of his life, even his dreams. A nonvegan may not think it is comprehensive, but that could also apply to others' views of anyone else's religion. Since the Plaintiff's Ethical Vegan belief system encompasses all aspects and elements of not only his life, but the lives of all animals, the belief system is comprehensive and satisfies the second prong of this court's requirements for a religious creed.
"Third, a religion often can be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs." This again is biased against new religions and may also be an unconstitutional test of reasonableness. Even so, some Ethical Vegans recognize Gandhi's birthday (October 2nd) as a holiday, and World Vegan Day is November 1st. Further, Peter Singer may be considered a founder of the compiled philosophy and may have many teachers, the equivalent of "ministers." In fact, if the Plaintiff were allowed to amend his complaint, he could plead that in both Massachusetts and California, legal marriages licenses have been issued with the marriage being performed by an Ethical Vegan. There are vegan songs, heroes, and many of us aim to convert others to Ethical Veganism. In this sense, Ethical Veganism is evangelical or proselytizing as are many Christian religions. The Plaintiff can allege that he has a tattoo on his left arm symbolizing Ethical Veganism, as some Christians would tattoo a crucifix. In terms of what the Plaintiff already pled in his complaint - Plaintiff pled his diet (setting forth what he cannot eat under Ethical Veganism) and clothing (setting forth what he cannot wear under Ethical Veganism) are traditional "formal and external signs" of religion. Similarly, the civil disobedience comparison to Operation Rescue is an external sign of religious faith and devotion to these values, or the great sacrifice Jehovah's Witnesses are known to take to retain their religious purity. [AA, pp. 000002-000003, ¶4]
Ultimately, I was fired from Kaiser Permanente for not complying with an arbitrary policy. I have found no medical or legal reason to be required to take the mumps vaccine. Kaiser claimed to CBS news that the law requires them to vaccinate their employees, but the law does not (governing law, Title 22, requires a health screening and TB test, no mention of vaccines).
Whenever someone has profoundly held moral values, employers must not force their staff to comply with an arbitrary policy in conflict. Policies should allow for exceptions, just as the law does, because every circumstance cannot be predicted.
Ethical Veganism clearly fits into the State definition of religion, generally 'one's profoundly held moral values that take the place of traditionally-held religions.' Ethical Veganism is my guiding principle. Therefore, the purpose of my lawsuit, apart from recovery for injuries I suffered, is to allow other people with profoundly held moral values, vegans or not, to use laws that are already in effect to protect them from arbitrary discrimination even if their morality is not traditional, for I am against discrimination, not just the discrimination against traditional religions. The question should be, 'is the policy arbitrary,' not 'does the person believe like I do.'
Maybe you should also add that I'll be performing a wedding in Massachusetts next month as the clergy-equivalent for Ethical Vegans. The couple, both vegans, don't want to be married under a theistic religion, nor do they want to be married by the State, so they have asked me to perform the ceremony and Massachusetts approved my request on June 18. This is another example of the religious nature of profoundly held moral values.
California is bound by law to recognize valid marriages in other states. They will recognize this marriage as it will be valid in Mass. Can they then refuse my religious discrimination claim and accept weddings performed by Ethical Vegan clergy?