Open letter to: Priestlands School in Lymington, Hampshire County Council and parents of vegan children attending the school

by a UK representative of the IVRA

The Metro reported on 21 January 2018 that a school in England “reared four pigs” and “is now going to send the animals to slaughter” as part of the education of its students, “in order to teach the children how to ‘fatten up pigs for slaughter.’ According to the Metro article, vegan parents with children attending the school complained and asked that the pigs be sent to an animal sanctuary, but were advised by the headmaster that vegan children are in the minority and the pigs would be killed. http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/21/school-hand-reared-four-pigs-now-going-killed-7247634/

If the report is accurate the school appears to be unaware that vegans and vegan parents have protections under international, European and national law. These rights do not appear to be being taken into account at all.

Vegans hold the fundamental moral conviction that it is wrong to exploit and kill non-human animals unnecessarily. All of the leading dietetics associations recognise that we do not need to kill and eat animals, or anything taken from animals, in order to be healthy; therefore vegans do not eat animals and killing animals for food is against their convictions.

Vegan parents also have the right to respect for their convictions in relation to state provision of education. Article 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) provides that: ‘[t]he States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.’ Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that:

“In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

The Human Rights Committee of the ICCPR has noted that:

“The liberty of parents or legal guardians to ensure that their children receive a religious and moral education in conformity with their own convictions, set forth in article 18(4), is related to the guarantees of the freedom to teach a religion or belief stated in article 18(1). The Committee notes that public education that includes instruction in a particular religion or belief is inconsistent with article 18(4) unless provision is made for non-discriminatory exemptions or alternatives that would accommodate the wishes of parents and guardians.”

In the case of Campbell and Cossans v The UK, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) found that the belief that it was wrong to inflict physical punishment on a child was a protected philosophical conviction, as it had “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.” Similarly, the vegan conviction that it is wrong to exploit and kill non-human animals unnecessarily has been found to have the required cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and is therefore a protected philosophical conviction.

In Campbell and Cossans the ECtHR noted that ‘the education of children is the whole process whereby, in any society, adults endeavour to transmit their beliefs, culture and other values to the young…..Moreover …..the second sentence of Article 2 (Protocol 1) is binding upon the Contracting States in the exercise of “each and every” function that they undertake in the sphere of education and teaching, so that the fact that a given function may be considered to be ancillary is of no moment in this context”. The claim that corporal punishment breached the parents’ philosophical beliefs was upheld and the decision led to the outlawing of corporal punishment in all UK state-run schools.

There can be no doubt that what the school is doing in the case reported by the Metro is something they are undertaking in the sphere of education and teaching, and therefore the protections afforded to vegan parents are engaged. Their right to ensure that their child’s education is carried out in a way that conforms to their fundamental conviction that it is wrong to kill non-human animals is being breached by the school incorporating the killing of animals into its teaching.

It is difficult to see how any non-discriminatory provision could be made for the children of these vegan parents which would avoid breach of their rights. How can you effectively protect the children of vegan parents from a process whereby four living beings are brought onto the school grounds, presumably fed and cared for by the children (who are being taught “how to ‘fatten up pigs for slaughter”), and then killed? Even if these children are excluded from the tasks related to the pigs while they are on school grounds, they will know they are there, they will see them, they will hear about them and they will know they are going to be killed. They will also know when they have gone.

If the children are vegan themselves that will be truly heartbreaking for them and it will breach their own rights as vegans; the right to live their lives according to their fundamental convictions and to be free from discrimination on account of their veganism. Even if they are not vegan themselves, because they do not hold the moral conviction themselves (perhaps yet), their parents have a right to protect them from education that promotes the idea that pigs are unfeeling things for us to use and kill. It is hard to see what steps could be taken to effectively protect them from that, other than the school not having the pigs killed.

Other reports on this situation have indicated that an animal sanctuary has offered to take the pigs. There is therefore an alternative. In light of the rights of vegan parents and their vegan children, I would urge the school and the local authority to give the pigs to the sanctuary.