A lot has been written lately about a decision from a federal court in Ohio which some commentators claim (with shock) elevates veganism to a religion. The Court, however, did not do that.
A few relevant facts are in order. Plaintiff, an employee at a hospital, refused a flu vaccine upon the grounds that she was a vegan, and as such, did not ingest animal products or by-products (such as go into vaccines), “a moral and ethical belief which [she] sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” She was fired, and sued under Title VII for religious discrimination.
The employer claimed that “in its view veganism does not qualify as a religion, but rather is no more than a dietary preference or social philosophy.”
The Court held that “at this early stage of the litigation” and “in the context of a motion to dismiss, it merely needs to determine whether Plaintiff has alleged a plausible claim. The Court finds it plausible that Plaintiff could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views (emphasis added).”
The Court therefore did not hold that veganism is a religion, or that Title VII includes vegans in a protected class, but, it seems to me, simply decided (wisely) not to become embroiled at the beginning of a lawsuit in an argument as to what is a religion and/or what is the meaning of a belief “sincerely held with the strength of religious views.”
As a footnote, please be aware that, as my partner Jeff Polsky aptly noted last week in his California Employment Law blog, courts in California have previously held that vegans cannot sue for religious discrimination, and the decisions nicely discuss the countervailing legal and philosophical arguments.