A Federal Judge Just Told You if Your Religion Is ‘Real’ or Not

According to a district court judge, a federal prison inmate’s avowed religion†is too silly to be protected or accommodated. In fact, the judge decided, it’s not a religion at all. Does that make you angry? It should.

Does the fact that the Nebraska inmate is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster change your feelings? It shouldn’t.

Prisoner Stephen Cavanaugh describes himself as a Pastafarian — a member of the whimsical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). FSM has a big sense of humor, but for many it is as legitimate a religion as any other. Want a quick tutorial on Pastafarianism? There’s a handy video just made for you:

Oh, and you can read about the pirates, the beer volcano and the stripper factory on the FSM’s official website. Really, go read. It’s worth it.

What prisoner Cavanaugh wanted was fairly straightforward. He asked for “the same rights and privileges as religious groups, including ‘the ability to order and wear religious clothing and pendants, the right to meet for weekly worship services and classes and the right to receive communion.’”

The Court’s decision footnotes the fact that, although Cavanaugh doesn’t say so specifically in his complaint, “it is clear from the FSM Gospel that ‘religious clothing’ means a pirate costume and ‘communion’ is, not surprisingly, ‘a large portion of spaghetti and meatballs.’” When you’re talking religion, do funny clothes and specific dietary rituals matter? Most religions have those, it seems to me.

Judge Gerrard disagreed. He ruled:

This is not a question of theology: it is a matter of basic reading comprehension. 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.

Wow, that’s a bold statement. I hereby deem your religion unworthy of recognition and accommodation because your gospel is obviously fictional. Apply that standard to the rest of the world’s religions and what happens? How many other religions can prove their holy book is not a work of fiction, created centuries ago?

Photo credit: FSM web site

Photo credit: FSM web site

“FSMism is not a ‘religion’ within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence,” the Court held. “It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education. Those are important issues, and FSMism contains a serious argumentóbut that does not mean that the trappings of the satire used to make that argument are entitled to protection as a ‘religion.’”

Federal and state prison systems, by the way, recognize many religions some would categorize as “oddball” or non-mainstream. Examples include Wiccan, Odinism and Rastafarianism. You might be surprised to learn that the Federal Bureau of Prisons recognizes Satanism as a religion and accommodates its practice.

Pastafarians believe the existence of their deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is exactly as plausible as the beliefs of many other mainstream, legally recognized religions. They’re not wrong. Mormonism and Scientology, for example, hold beliefs that non-adherents might find interesting and unusual. I don’t intend a judgment here. I’m making a comparison. Objectively speaking, why is Scientology a religion but FSM cannot be?

“Itís not a joke,” says Bobby Henderson, founder of FSM, on the group’s official website. “Elements of our religion are sometimes described as satire and there are many members who do not literally believe our scripture, but this isnít unusual in religion. A lot of Christians donít believe the Bible is literally true Ė but that doesnít mean they arenít True Christians.”

Judge Gerrard seems to be in violent disagreement with the governments of other countries, where FSM is concerned:

  • The Netherlands officially recognized FSM as a religion in January 2016.
  • New Zealand approved the church to perform marriage ceremonies in December 2015, finding FSM satisfied “the registrar-general that the principal object of the organisation was to uphold or promote religious beliefs, philosophical or humanitarian convictions.” The first officially sanctioned New Zealand Pastafarian wedding happened on April 16, 2016.
  • The United Kingdom apparently won’t allow the colander, but a Pastafarian pirate hat won official approval as religious headgear on a driver’s license in late 2015.
  • Austria allowed a Pastafarian to wear a colander†in his driver’s license photo in 2011, on the condition that he obtain a doctor’s certificate that he was “psychologically fit” to drive.

Within the United States, recognition of this fun-loving church is mixed.

The State of Georgia denied a Pastafarian the†right to wear†his religious headgear, a colander, on his driver’s license in December 2015. A colander isn’t headgear, they said. Mockery of religion isn’t a religion, they said. The state can’t issue licenses that “portray satirical or offensive points of view,” they said.

Offensive to whom, exactly? Who gets to say they’re offended by what I call my religion? How does Georgia know that driver’s beliefs aren’t sincerely held? That’s touchy territory, to say the least.

Contrast Georgia’s decision with what Massachusetts did at roughly the same time. Initially, it denied†Lindsey Miller the right to wear a colander for her driver’s license photo, too. However, after Miller pursued the matter rather than drop it, the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) backed off.

FSM parade celebration

Pastafarians celebrating at a parade in full regalia. Photo credit: FSM web site

“We do not get into the sincerity or the veracity of religious beliefs,” said RMV spokesman Michael Verseckes in a statement explaining why the state changed its mind. What a refreshing perspective. Similarly, Texas and Utah have allowed drivers to wear spaghetti strainers in license photos.

Is Pastafarianism any less credible than other religions of the world? Consider the thoughts of Andrea Jonathan Robert, as offered in a post on the website Patheos, responding to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris:

So in truth, as Pastafarians while our religious beliefs are sincerely held, our actions can be satirical in the effort to prove a larger point. Our religion is not a parody of other faiths. However, weíre not above using satire to point out how nonsensical other religions can be at times. Satire is intended to do more than just entertain; it tries to improve humanity and its institutions. One would think this is a worthy goal of any religion.

Indeed it is. Here’s a thought: As long as we’re both acting in a civilized and courteous manner, you keep your religion and I’ll keep mine. I’ll try my best not to be offended by the things you do in and for your church, and you do the same for me. Oh, wait, we have a label for that behavior. It’s called freedom of religion.

In America, that freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. Well, it’s guaranteed sometimes, unless your religion happens to be a little funny, a little quirky or a little “in your face.” Then you might just be on your own. The Constitution says that too, right?

Photo credit (all images): Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster web page


Philip W.
Philip W2 years ago

Perfect Example:

Mexican priest with HIV who raped 30 young girls absolved by church


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

While this is silly, this is a slippery slope. What comes next? Are they going to say that Christianity is silly? How about Judaism? How about Hinduism?...

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

never heard of these guys but they sound like fun.

Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Zarafonetis2 years ago

Bitch please!!! *~*

Anne F.
Anne F2 years ago

REspectfully want to thank you for showing the stained-glass window!

Philip W.
Philip W2 years ago

Continued part 3:

I would also like to point out that blaming the innocent, the victim, is a foundational pillar of religions who believe in blood sacrifice. Believing that sin can be transferred to an innocent lamb, or person, has created a mindset that has been prevalent in society for a very long time. Women and children are raped and blamed for their own rape, they are sold and exploited like property. People of color and the poor are exploited and payed poverty wages, slave wages, to keep them in their place. It isn’t strange that women and people of color are the most religious demographic, it was meant to be that way. While all the while there is an unreasonable reverence of an authority that is considered macho and dominating. And all the while convincing them that they will have a mansion or some ultimate excess in a heaven that hasn’t been proven to exist. A perfect set-up for the few who would exploit others for their own benefit. People should live their life as if this is the only one they will ever have.

"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." - Mark Twain

Thank you again Timothy.

Philip W.
Philip W2 years ago

Continued part 2:

The fact is we all have the same needs; food, water, shelter, security, healthcare, etc., yet religion is used to purposely divide us on issues that don't matter, causing believers to be fanatically involved with who others love or have sex with, where they pee, what they eat, everything and anything as long as it keeps people divided. If people could ever unite over their common needs, disregard their inevitable differences, we would all fight together for a better life for everyone.

"How can you have order in a state without religion? For, when one man is dying of hunger near another who is ill of surfeit [excess], he cannot resign himself to this difference unless there is an authority which declares, "God wills it thus." Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet." - Napoleon Bonaparte

"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich." -  Napoleon Bonaparte

"Pleonexia, sometimes called pleonexy, originating from the Greek πλεονεξια, is a philosophical concept which roughly corresponds to greed, covetousness, or avarice, and is strictly defined as "the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others", suggesting what Ritenbaugh describes as "ruthless self-seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one's own benefit". - ZadieÂ

Philip W.
Philip W2 years ago

Thank you Timothy, yes you can use my comments, hopefully they can help others to be free. For some reason my comments posted out of order but it seems like my point was made. Ironically, believers believe that religion unites, however, it is extremely evident that it is one of the most divisive systems purposely thought up.

This is why the theist mind is so frustrating and contradictory to the rational mind. The theist lives in a world of opposites, accusing and condemning others for things they believe to be against a god that hasn't been proven to exist and against doctrines that have been proven to be false. They believe in things they cannot see and deny the things they do see. (Romans 4:17 KJV; Hebrews 11:1 KJV) This is the spiritual equivalent of lying, which they justify as "having faith". Because to them, a lie can become the truth if you believe it enough. (Mark 11:23)

And this is why they cannot reconcile their beliefs with reality, it CANNOT work, it forces them to live in delusion and extreme denial. So, in their mind, truth is not something to be embraced, it must be filtered and changed to "fit" their beliefs.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogers2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.