By Kirsty Walker
Vegans, teetotallers and atheists are to be given the same protection against discrimination as religious groups, under Harriet Harman’s controversial new equality laws.
People who do not eat products and refuse to wear leather have been singled out for inclusion under the new legislation by Labour’s super-quango – the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
Official guidance issued by the body points out that the ‘ethical commitment’ of vegan’s to animal welfare is ‘central to who they are’.
The code of practice explains the legal implications of the equality bill states that religions need not be mainstream or well known for their adherents to gain protection.
The Equality Bill, masterminded by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, is due to come into force this Autumn.
It makes it a legal requirement for public authorities, including schools, to consider the impact of all their policies on minority groups.
But the guidance explains: “A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.”
Singling out vegans as meriting protection from religious discrimination, it says: ‘A person who is a vegan chooses not to use or consume animal products of any kind.
‘That person eschews the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, accessories or any other purpose and does so out of an ethical commitment to animal welfare.’
A spokesman from the commission explained: ‘This is about someone for whom being vegan or vegetarian is central to who they are. This is not something ‘thought up by the commission’.
‘Parliament makes the law, the courts interpret it and the commission offers factual and proportionate guidance to organisations where necessary. We are providing guidance on the implications of the equality bill.’
The legislation also covers ‘any religious belief or philosophical belief’ and even ‘a lack of belief’.
This means that members of cults and “new religions” such as Scientology, whose supporters include the film stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta, would also be offered protection, as would atheists.
The official guidance has already caused controversy after warning that schools which force girls to wear skirts may be breaking the law – because the policy apparently discriminates against transsexuals.
It claims the dress code may breach the rights of girls who feel compelled to live as boys.
Religious leaders have condemned Miss Harman’s equality laws for sideling religion to promote a false idea of ‘tolerance’.
The watchdog also warns that advertisements giving preferential treatment to men or women could be illegal.
This could mean the end of “ladies’ nights” at clubs, when women receive cut-price drinks or free entrance but men pay full price.