Cheryl Abbate Is the 2023 Tom Regan Memorial Lecturer

Cheryl Abbate (with Tom, named after Tom Regan)

On October 5, 2023 at Harvard Law School, Cheryl Abbate, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, will present the sixth Annual Tom Regan Memorial Lecture. Her subject will be “The Philosophy of Animal Rights: A Way of Life or Religion?” Her respondent will be environmental and legal scholar Dale Jamieson.

The event is co-hosted by The Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School.

Many animal advocates have drawn their inspiration from religious traditions: whether the proscriptions against violence in Asian religions, the plea for mercy in Islam, the strictures against cruelty in kashrut laws in Judaism, or in the various strains of Christianity, such as Quakerism, Seventh-Day Adventism, or the Unitarian traditions. However, Cheryl Abbate takes this lineage of activism further in her talk, entitled “The Philosophy of Animal Rights: A Way of Life or Religion?” She asks:

Is animal rights theory just a philosophy or does it contain a set of beliefs that are religious in nature, according to the standards of U.S. law? In this talk, Abbate will contend that the set of beliefs found within the philosophy of animal rights are religious in nature, insofar as they satisfy the “inclusion tests” of religion used by the courts and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In particular, she will discuss how the philosophy of animal rights: (1)  addresses fundamental beliefs about animal (human and nonhuman) life, purpose, and death, (2) includes the belief that our  moral reality, which includes respect for animals, transcends the “apparent world,” (3) is an ethical system that prescribes a particular way of treating and viewing other creatures, (4) provides a comprehensive set of ethical beliefs, which provide “answers” to most ethical problems and dilemmas that humans face, and (5) is centered upon a seminal text (The Case for Animal Rights) that specifies the tenets of the rights perspective and instructs “followers” to “propagate” those tenants to “non-believers.” And, as Abbate will demonstrate, one implication of this is that many ethical vegans and animal rights activists possess special legal entitlements when it comes to employment law, public accommodation law, and affirmative action policy. This talk will thus leave attendees questioning whether the U.S.’s unique enshrining of religious freedom in its Constitution as a means of affirming fundamental human rights also furthers animal rights.

To register for this event—either to attend in person, or to receive a Zoom URL—send your name and email and whether you’ll attend in person or online, to