June 2016 Church & State - June 2015

Federal Court Rules That ‘Pastafarianism’ Is Not A Real Religion

  AU admin

A federal court recently decided that “Pastafarianism,” also known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), is satire rather than a real religion that must be accorded First Amendment protections.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska in an April decision asserted that no one would seriously believe that the church was real. To believe such a thing, the court ruled, a person would have to have failed in “basic reading comprehension.”

The court weighed in on this matter after Stephen Cavanaugh, a Nebraska prisoner who claimed to be a Pastafarian, sued to get access to the group’s literature and the right to wear its “traditional” headgear while incarcerated. (Pastafarians sometimes wear colanders on their heads). He also requested the right to dress like a pirate, an outfit commonly worn by church supporters. 

“This is not a question of theology,” the Cavanaugh v. Bartelt decision read. “The FSM Gospel is plainly a work of satire, meant to entertain while making a pointed political statement. To read it as religious doctrine would be little different from grounding a ‘religious exercise’ on any other work of fiction.”

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was founded in Kansas in 2005 as a way to protest the state Board of Education’s decision to incorporate “intelligent design” into public school science curricula. The activists who created the church wrote to the board and requested that their god – a huge mass of spaghetti that flies through the sky – also be included in science classes.

Thanks to the internet, the movement took off, and soon Pastafarians were hammering out theology and rituals. On its website, the church says ordination can be obtained for $25. It also denies that it is satire.

“Some claim that the church is purely a thought experiment or satire,” the church’s website says. “These people are mistaken — The Church of FSM is legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humor or satire is purely coincidental.”

This is not the first time Pastafarianism has been the basis of a legal challenge. Last year, a Massachusetts woman won the right to wear a pasta strainer on her head in her driver’s license photo.

Lindsay Miller told reporters that the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) had originally denied her request, even though she informed staff that she identifies as a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The RMV eventually relented, saying that its staff had misapplied policy that prohibits hats or head coverings unless they’re worn for religious reasons. “The RMV processed the customer’s request consistent with its established facial image policy,” a spokesperson told WCVB-TV, Boston’s ABC affiliate.

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