12:30, January 03 96 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-03 12:30:36
After tribunal's ethical veganism ruling, what is a protected belief?

What is a protected belief?

The right to philosophical and religious beliefs – or to no belief – is in effect a similar category of protection to that afforded to sex, race, disability or age, under the Equalities Act 2010, according to Sarah Chilton, a partner at the law firm CM Murray.

The act protects nine characteristics, with philosophical beliefs protected in the same way as religion, so that someone who expresses a belief in acting over climate change would be protected in the same way as someone who practises Christianity.

How does a belief become protected?

The Equality Act provides that beliefs can be protected if they satisfy certain criteria that have been set out in case law.

In the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson, the court set out conditions for a protected belief. To begin with, the belief must be genuinely held; it must be a belief rather than an opinion or point of view; and it must be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life.

In this sense, Jordi Casamitjana’s ethical veganism is distinguishable from other forms of veganism, such as that motivated by health, which might not necessarily be regarded as substantial enough to be a protected belief. “For this particular claimant, whose life and behaviour was impacted much more widely [by his belief], I think there’s much more than just not eating animals,” Chilton said. “All of his life was impacted by the belief.”

For a belief to be protected, the claimant must also show that it has cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, meaning that it must be fit together in the claimant’s life as a coherent belief system, in much the same way as a religion. And the belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be compatible with human dignity, and not in conflict with the rights of others. This means that, for example, a belief in the innate superiority of certain races cannot be protected.

What other protected beliefs are there?

Aside from beliefs in the mainstream religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and so on, people who follow much smaller religions, such as Rastafarians, Pagans and Scientologists, are also protected. Other beliefs that have been protected by employment tribunals under the Equality Act include a belief that radical action must be taken over climate change (which was the case that gave rise to the Grainger test), and a belief in Scottish independence. That latter case concerned an employee of the Ministry of Defence who was suspended from work and whose security clearance was revoked after he began a bid to become his party’s deputy leader.

What other beliefs are people trying to achieve protected status for?

Maya Forstater, a former researcher and writer for a thinktank, is likely to appeal against a ruling that her gender-critical feminist beliefs could not be protected, Chilton suggested. Forstater, a tax expert, had been a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development until her contract was not renewed after a dispute over publicising her views – such as that “men cannot change into women” – on social media. However, Judge James Tayler ruled that Forstater’s views were “absolutist” because she had suggested in her evidence that she would not recognise transgender women even after they had been granted a gender recognition certificate.

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