Is Ethical Veganism a Religion or Creed?

Should veganism be considered a religion or creed? Being recognized as a religion has many benefits, such as tax exemption.  But there are also drawbacks. Many vegans already belong to other religions, or are otherwise uncomfortable with calling veganism a religion.

Thanks to the efforts of Canadian Animal Rights Lawyer Camille Labchuk, veganism can be considered a creed in some circumstances by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).

How the OHRC decides if a belief is a religion or creed

The OHRC uses the following questions to determine the conditions under which veganism can be seen as a creed.

To be seen as a creed, a belief must be:

  • sincerely, freely and deeply held
  • integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfilment
  • a particular and comprehensive, overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices
  • addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death, and the existence or non-existence of a Creator and/or a higher or different order of existence
  • has some connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief

Ethical veganism satisfies many of these criteria, although few vegans would probably argue that veganism answers ultimate questions about human existence.

The Benefits

If veganism is seen as a religion or creed, it will provide certain benefits. Tax emption for vegan organizations would be one. In the US, churches receive tax exempt status without applying to the IRS for said status. Non-profits need to fill out volumes of paperwork and are under constant scrutiny. Churches, on the other hand, rarely lose non-profit status.

In terms of lobbying governments, in the US non-profits need to keep the public informed about their spending and follow other rules that don’t apply to Churches. For example, non-religious non-profits need to file a form 990, which discloses financial information to the IRS and shows potential conflicts of interest and compensation details. Churches don’t have to do this, which blows my mind. Basically, 100% of the money a church takes in can go to the minister, with zero accountability. A Church doesn’t even need to disclose how much money it spends to promote political causes. You can read more about this surprising fact here.

The Drawbacks

Of course, many, if not most vegans are also members of other religions and would have a hard time calling veganism a religion.

Moreover, those of us who are not religious have spent a lot of time assuring people that veganism just makes sense, it’s not some sort of cult. Calling veganism a religion would undermine this argument.

It might also make it more difficult to receive permission to go into schools and discuss plant-based diets. If veganism is a religion, then telling people about the health benefits might be considered proselytizing.

For these reasons, I think it’s better to work through the existing system. More vegan and plant based groups should focus on applying for non-profit status. I do think it makes sense to protect veganism as a creed, as it is a deeply held belief. But I think it’s even more important to work on making veganism the norm.


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