Veganism is a philosophical conviction protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, under Article 9 of the Convention, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
This was decided in 1993 by the European Commission of Human Rights, which used to be the first stage in taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The test of whether a personal or collective conviction is to benefit from Article 9 is that it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
If your belief meets that standard, then the Convention protects your absolute right to hold the belief and your qualified right to manifest the belief.
The case was C.W. v. the United Kingdom. The applicant was a prisoner. Among other complaints, he had refused to work in a prison print shop because as a vegan he wished to avoid contact with animal products or products which had been tested on animals.
He lost the overall case for reasons that I will outline later, but the Commission accepted the underlying argument that veganism meets the criteria to be a philosophical conviction protected by the European Convention. The decision stated that:
“The Commission has therefore examined the applicant’s complaints under Article 9 (Art. 9) of the Convention, which provides:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The Commission recalls that the applicant refused to work in the print shop because as a Vegan he wished to avoid contact with animal products or products which had been tested on animals. The Commission notes that the Government do not contest that Veganism is capable of concerning “conscience” or “belief” within the meaning of Article 9 (Art. 9) of the Convention.
The Commission’s case-law establishes that this provision protects the sphere of private, personal beliefs and the acts which are intimately linked to these attitudes (see e.g. No. 10358/83, Dec. 15.12.83, D.R. 37, p. 142). The Commission finds that the Vegan convictions with regard to animal products fall within the scope of Article 9 para. 1 (Art. 9-1) of the Convention.”
The reason that C.W. lost his case was that the Convention allows some limitations on manifesting your beliefs. These criteria are outlined in paragraph 2 of the quote above.
In this case, the Commission found that the interference was “prescribed by law” in that any requirement to work is contained in the Prison Rules and pursued the aim of preserving good. It noted a factual conflict as to the nature and extent of the connection between the dyes and animals, the fact that it was only one of the applicant’s reasons for refusing the work and also the relatively minor nature of the penalties imposed on the applicant for refusing to comply with the normal work regime.
In these circumstances, the Commission found that the principle of proportionality had not been infringed, and to the extent that there had been an interference, the interference was justified under paragraph 2 of Article 9 (Art. 9-2) of the Convention.
But the Commission accepted the underlying argument that veganism meets the criteria to be a philosophical conviction protected by the European Convention.
You can read the full decision of the Commission here.
You can read more details here on how the European Convention on Human Rights protects nonreligious beliefs.