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"The Church of the Holy Vegan?" Philadelphia Daily News

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  • Vasu Murti
    Should we be exempt from certain things because of our deeply-held vegan convictions? Karen Dawn wrote: From: Karen Dawn Date: Fri,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 13, 2003
      Should we be exempt from certain things because of our deeply-held vegan

      Karen Dawn <karendawn@...> wrote:

      From: "Karen Dawn"
      Date: Fri, 8 Aug 2003 08:49:29 -0700
      Subject: The Church of the Holy Vegan? Philadelphia Daily News.

      (The Philadelphia Daily News takes letters at: Views@... )
      Philadelphia Daily News
      August 8, 2003 Friday
      The Church of the Holy Vegan?


      LAST MONTH, a U.S. district judge turned down a request by three vegan
      prisoners at Rikers Island in New York to get vegan meals in prison. For
      now the three, charged with property damage and trespass at a
      demonstration against animal testing, are subsisting on peanut butter,
      crackers and potato chips.

      In turning them down, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin said she did not question
      the sincerity of the inmates' religious beliefs, and that raises the
      question: Is veganism a religion? More exactly, does it deserve First
      Amendment protection similar to other religions under U.S. law?

      First, it's important to note that although the word "vegan" was coined
      only 60 years ago, the basic concept is among humanity's oldest spiritual
      traditions. The Hindu principle of "ahimsa" - willful non-violence -
      appeared in scriptures a thousand years before Jesus. Two other ancient
      religions, Buddhism and Jainism, elevated ahimsa to a central position.

      It's also worth noting that this belief system is not a mere philosophy -
      a way of making sense of the world intellectually - but a way of life
      that affects its adherents profoundly.

      Gandhi, for example, grew up in a Jain-centered area, but did not adopt
      the principle of ahimsa until he became an ethical vegetarian. After
      that, he frequently referenced ahimsa in religious terms: "Non-violence
      is an active force of the highest order," he said. "It is soul force or
      the power of Godhead within us."

      We needn't look all the way to East Asia for the religious underpinnings
      of veganism, though.

      The Rikers prisoners, all Jewish, argued that veganism was the purest
      articulation of their religious identity.

      This makes sense when we consider the first mention of food in the Bible,
      Genesis 1:29, where God says, "Behold, I have given you every herb
      bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in
      the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for

      The God of the Hebrews first and foremost wanted mankind to live on
      fruits and vegetables. Even Christians are finding links to veganism,
      above and beyond Jesus' apparent links to the vegan Essene cult. If
      nothing else, Jesus' turn-the-other-cheek, love-thy-enemy ethic is deeply
      reminiscent of the precepts of ahimsa.

      Reminiscence, of course, is not a legal argument: Even if vegans
      consistently live in an ethical way, is that enough to qualify as a
      religion? Common sense tells us that there should be some kind of deity,
      some higher power involved. However, when it comes to First Amendment
      protection, the Supreme Court says otherwise.

      In two cases pertaining to conscientious objectors whose moral stance did
      not invoke a supreme being, the court specifically addressed this wider
      question: In United States vs. Seeger (1965), Justice Tom Clark wrote for
      the majority that "Some believe in a purely personal God, some in a
      supernatural deity; others think of religion as a way of life envisioning
      as its ultimate goal the day when all men can live together in perfect
      understanding and peace."

      Clark cited Congress' "long-established policy of not picking and
      choosing among religious beliefs." And in Welsh vs. United States (1970),
      the court expanded the C.O. exemption to include "deeply held moral,
      ethical, or religious beliefs whether or not the individual calls them

      Vegans, who avoid any and all products of animal exploitation, including
      leather, are sometimes mocked for their "inflexibility." But there's
      another, more relevant, term for this: devotion.

      Not all federal prisons apply the "religious dietary practices" rule
      exactly the same; but it's clear that wherever kosher or halal meals are
      available, so should be vegan meals for vegans. If our prison system has
      any true rehabilitative goal, stopping inmates from pursuing a creed of
      non-violence seems ludicrous.

      Vance Lehmkuhl is the online editor of the Daily News.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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