Religion

Judge Rules That Pastafarianism Is Not a Proper Religion

As of this week, religious accommodation doesn't require a prison to let an inmate wear a pirate costume.

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Touched by a noodle.
Know Your Meme

It's official: The Constitution does not give prisoners the right to wear a pirate costume. Or so U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard ruled this week, responding to a Nebraska man's claim that as a Pastafarian—that is, a worshipper of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—he was entitled to have his religious practices accommodated, including "the ability to order and wear religious clothing." He didn't spell out what exactly that means, but as the court notes, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster states that "it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full Pirate regalia."

Perhaps I should back up a bit. The author of that gospel, Bobby Henderson, first told the world about the Flying Spaghetti Monster in 2005, after Kansas started teaching the idea of "intelligent design" alongside evolution. "I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster," he wrote to the state board of education, urging that this perspective receive equal time. His mock-faith quickly grew from a secularist in-joke to an internet memefest, and the Spaghetti Monster now occupies as honored a place in the web-culture pantheon as Slenderman and Leeroy Jenkins. Evidently one of its fans is Stephen Cavanaugh, an inmate at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

When Cavanaugh asked his jailers to accommodate his alleged faith, they rejected his request on the grounds that Pastafarianism is a parody religion, not a real religion. In a ruling that considers the First Amendment, the Constitution's equal protection clause, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Nebraska state constitution, Judge Gerrard decided to side with the prison, drawing a number of tricky philosophical distinctions along the way. For example:

Thou shalt have no salad dish before me.
Flying Spaghetti Monster Wiki

It bears emphasizing that the Court is not engaged in—and has been careful to avoid—questioning the validity of Cavanaugh's beliefs. The Court is well aware that it "should not undertake to dissect religious beliefs because the believer admits that he is struggling with his position or because his beliefs are not articulated with clarity and precision that a more sophisticated person might employ." It is worth noting, however, that aside from identifying [The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster], Cavanaugh has not alleged anything about what it is that he actually believes—leaving the Court to read the book. And it is no more tenable to read the FSM Gospel as proselytizing for supernatural spaghetti than to read Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" as advocating cannibalism.

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. A prisoner could just as easily read the works of Vonnegut or Heinlein and claim it as his holy book, and demand accommodation of Bokononism or the Church of All Worlds. Of course, there are those who contend—and Cavanaugh is probably among them—that the Bible or the Koran are just as fictional as those books. It is not always an easy line to draw. But there must be a line beyond which a practice is not "religious" simply because a plaintiff labels it as such. The Court concludes that FSMism is on the far side of that line.

The Earth is a sweet mistress.
Berkley Books

In a footnote, Judge Gerrard acknowledges that there is in fact a Church of All Worlds inspired by Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land, but he distinguishes that from the Cavanaugh case on the grounds that "Cavanaugh does not allege allegiance to any comparable organization—he simply relies on the FSM Gospel, taken at face value." And in that case, Gerrard feels entitled to fall back on authorial intent: Pastafarianism was created as a parody, and therefore it need not be treated as sincere.

This raises a few questions. It is overwhelmingly likely that Cavanaugh understands that Pastafarianism is a joke and that he filed his suit to make mischief. But the judge says he isn't probing "the validity of Cavanaugh's beliefs," and his ruling is supposed to apply either way. So: Let us suppose that the plaintiff has had a spiritual experience—a hallucination while in solitary confinement, say—that convinced him the Spaghetti Monster is real. Would it really matter, in these death-of-the-author days, that Henderson created the faith as a gag? For all we know, scores of now-respected religions were launched by prophets who didn't literally believe what they were saying but now have thousands of earnest believers. Fake it til you make it, y'know?

Before you object that this is unlikely to happen to a religion that is transparently a goof, let me direct your attention to the Reformed Druids of North America, an organization founded as a Spaghetti Monster-style spoof in 1963. Carlton College required its students to attend religious services, but it did not insist they follow any particular faith. Some wiseasses started the Druids to test the limits of the requirement. "The group was never intended to be a true alternative religion, for the students were Christians, Jews, agnostics, and so forth and seemed content with those religions," Margot Adler recounts in her book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. "In 1964 the regulation was abolished but, much to the surprise—and, it is said, the horror—of the original founders, the RDNA continued to hold services and spread its organization far beyond the college campus." The group still exists.

OK, you say: In that case there's an organization that's been around for more than half a century, evolving in ways the founders didn't foresee. That isn't the case with Cavanaugh. So let me bring up another parody religion, the Church of the SubGenius. This sect is still in the hands of people who consider it a form of satire. But despite its deliberately absurd doctrines, the church has attracted some genuine believers. In 2012, when I interviewed SubGenius co-founder Ivan Stang for my book The United States of Paranoia, he told me those followers were his "biggest regret":

What if Dick Van Dyke were the messiah?
Church of the SubGenius

We were just trying to be like the [psychedelic comedy group] Firesign Theatre and underground comics, our heroes. And what we ended up with is this flypaper for kooks, to a certain degree. Or maybe just people who are ignorant and gullible. Or maybe they're just getting into this stuff for the first time. And they should be damned glad it was us and not Heaven's Gate or Jonestown….I've been told by quite a few people that the Invisible College or something like that was channeling this stuff through me. And I go, "No, they're not. My buddies and I just get high and we come up with this crap."

So here we have a direct conflict between authorial intent and parishioner interpretation. Let us suppose one of those misguidedly earnest SubGenii is locked up somewhere, and let us suppose she requests that her religious rituals be accommodated. Nothing even as disruptive as a pirate suit; just the same sorts of privileges that Christians and Muslims and Wiccans and Scientologists receive. Should her request be granted? If it were up to me, the answer would be yes, but I've got a broad-church (so to speak) understanding of what qualifies as a religion. I suspect Judge Gerrard would disagree.

In the meantime, Cavanaugh will have to go without his pirate costume, and his demand for "the right to receive communion" will also be denied. In other words, he can't insist that the prison feed him spaghetti and meatballs.

NEXT: Ted Cruz Takes a Stand Against Operation Choke Point

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  1. “As of this week, religious accommodation doesn’t require a prison to let an inmate wear a pirate costume.”

    I recall years ago an “Odinist” needed a bonfire to successfully worship, the prison gave him a candle, Maybe an eyepatch would be fair.

    1. IIRC, an Odinist shouldn’t need anything more than a spear, a bog, and an enemy to sacrifice. We should be able to accommodate that in prison, right?

      1. A *bog*?!

        Do you know how badly that much water is going to ruin the exercise yard. especially with people tramping through it while its soaked.

        *sigh* – Tell you what, we’ve got a low spot over here. Fred’ll hook up a garden hose and let it run all night but that’s as good as you get.

        1. /May be an overwatered bonsai would do in a pinch?

        2. We had one of these guys in my first Army unit. Only time I ever saw a religious exemption allowing a guy to grow his hair and nails out – of course it wasn’t so long that it would interfere with a gas mask.

          1. I have just TWO questions:
            ‘1) WHERE in the USA Cunts-tits-tution does it say, “Your religious freedoms that you’ve got? They can only be exercised if you fill out form BR-666 in quadruplicate, and have a Federal Judge of the USA Government Almighty, certify that your religious beliefs are “sincerely held”?

            ‘2) With all the attention paid to Sub-Geniuses and Pastafarians, WHAT in the Holy Name of Government Almighty about MEEEE and the Church of Scienfoology? ? To learn more about Scienfoology, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/

      2. Maybe he’s a Reform Odinist

      3. Where’s Bear Odinson? He’d probably know.

        1. Someone keep an eye out for him.

    2. “Smith, 38, said in the suit that state prison officials said he couldn’t have certain items connected with the pagan religion of Odinism, namely a pinewood fire in a small pit to observe certain rites, and use of a certain area of the prison for worship.

      According to the suit, prison officials instead gave him a candle.”

      Fire pit not bonfire.

      http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/…..T/71002023

      1. I’m sure you had a point. What do you think it was?

        1. That my memory isn’t a good as I remember it.

    3. What if he’d said he was an Onanist?

      1. They’d have to leave at least one hand free?

    4. An eyepatch would go with either piracy or Odinism.

  2. I’m just proud he chose pasta for his monster creation.

    /wipes tear.

    Fresh lemon linguine tonight!

    1. My sect of Pastafarianism requires lasagna as a sacrament. In a pinch, pizza (not deep-dish) will suffice.

      1. “Deep dish pizza” is a casserole, let’s just stop referring to it as anything else.

        1. “Pizza casserole.”

          Works for me.

        2. Regular pies shall henceforth be referred to as platter pizza.

  3. they rejected his request on the grounds that Pastafarianism is a parody religion, not a real religion.

    Isn’t picking and choosing which religions are recognized by the government the very pinnacle of Establishment Clause violations?

    1. I do believe it is.

    2. More precisely, he rejected the argument on the basis that he submitted a parody for a brief. He didn’t submit an earnest depiction of his religion as real.

      1. But why should the assumption be that being a parody also makes it not a real religion? That involves a lot of assumptions about religion that I think the establishment clause forbids.

        1. Because, by definition, the concept expressed by parody is not taken seriously.

      2. He didn’t submit an earnest depiction of his religion as real.

        I don’t think having judges decide whether a religion is real based on their perception of the sincerity of its adherents really solves the Constitutional problem.

    3. That’s what I’ve always thought.

    4. All religions started as a parody.

    5. Judges have to interpret the law. They have to make a judgement call as to where to draw the lines. It is exactly because a bunch of smart-aleks pull these kind of stunts, which only serve to harass everyone else, that someone has to make these distinctions.

  4. May the FSM wrap Judge Gerrard in his noodly appendages and something something…woodchipper.

    1. Reduce him to couscous.

    2. The FSM cannot be woodchipped, unlike all those fake deities that come with a lot of wood.

  5. “A prisoner could just as easily read the works of Vonnegut or Heinlein and claim it as his holy book”

    or L. Ron Hubbard.

    1. I note that the judge stayed far away from that one…

      1. They got a legal staff.

    2. Or Joseph Smith

    3. I’d actually be down with Heinlein. Vonnegut, a little less so.

      L. Ron Hubbard’s evil spawn, now there’s a “religion” that I’d happily nuke from orbit.

  6. As much as I dislike a judge deciding what is a “proper” religion, it would seem that you forfeit a lot of rights in prison. Perhaps the judge could have made an accommodation by letting him by letting him wear a sash or headscarf or some such. Of course, since those could be used to strangle other prisoners, maybe just a yarmulke with a skull and crossbones stitched on it would suffice.

    I wonder if the Church of the Crips or Church of the Bloods gets to wear gang colors in jail.

    1. Here’s a question. I don’t have any particular answer I am attached to.

      Are prisons obliged to make religious accommodations at all? You lose plenty of other constitutionally guaranteed rights in prison. I suppose the difference would be that those rights are necessarily restricted in prison, while religious practice can fairly easily be accommodated in many cases.

      1. I would think they would have to. I seem to recall a Hindu sect from the 16th century, not sure if they’re still around, which was a warrior sect who had a religious principle against sleeping indoors. Hard to accommodate that one in prison. . .

        1. “I would think they would have to”

          Refuse to accommodate certain religious practices, that is.

          Human sacrifice would be another if, say, you arrested a devout Aztec.

          1. I’d find that fun to be a judge in that court.

            “According to your doctrines, only the Priestly Caste is permitted to hold sacrifice. Since you are not a member of that caste, the court recognizes your rite to perform autosacrifice. An appointed guard will be sent by your cell each morning to draw blood from your earlobe in accordance with your professed religious traditions.”

            I’m a sarcastic asshole. With a knowledge of many religious and mythological practices. I’d make their accommodations mandatory.

            I would’ve refused the Pirate Costume on the grounds that the Pastafarian texts clearly states that the Pirate Costume is only to be worn during proselytization.

        2. Folsom?

      2. There was actually a case last year that went to the SCOTUS. A Muslim prisoner wanted to grow a short beard (half inch I think), and the prison wasn’t letting him. The SCOTUS came down on the side of the prisoner.

        Another example is kosher meals for observant Jews.

        So I think that yeah, prisons are obliged to make *reasonable* religious accommodations. The question is “what’s reasonable?”.

        1. I think “reasonable” would center on “can we keep other people here safe, or make accomodations at an affordable cost”? Obviously, Sikhs and their knives are out, and Rastafarians and weed prolly won’t make the cut, but I think the judge erred here, since the prisoner didn’t seem to be asking for anything dangerous or expensive. At most he might have hurt the feelings of those who don’t like being mocked.

          1. Or in the case of weed, not do things that are crimes already in the eyes of the state (although certainly not in my opinion, of course).

          2. From a screw’s perspective, letting anybody do anything individualistic is a problem because it’s going to incite jealousy and hard feelings. If that guy can grow a half-inch beard or get specially-prepared meals, why can’t I? You’re treating that guy differently just because he has a religion and I don’t? That “special” bastard’s getting shanked at the first opportunity. (And really, if a Muslim growing a half-inch beard for religious reasons doesn’t spell disaster for the prison, why should a non-Muslim growing a half-inch beard for non-religious reasons? If you can offer a no-pork meal for religious reasons, why not a no-meatloaf meal for the reason I don’t like meatloaf?)

        2. Orange is the New Black had a subplot about women converting to Judaism because the kosher meals were better. The prison brought in a rabbi that tested the validity of the prisoners’ faith.

  7. If the FSM will not allow evangelism except in the guise of a pirate, that seems like a problem for the FSM and not the dept of corrections.

  8. But there must be a line beyond which a practice is not “religious” simply because a plaintiff labels it as such.

    Citation needed.

  9. Perhaps I should back up a bit. The author of that gospel, Bobby Henderson, first told the world about the Flying Spaghetti Monster in 2005, after Kansas started teaching the idea of “intelligent design” alongside evolution.

    You’re not backing up enough! The FSM came into existence after the Big Bang but before the planets were formed. I have it right here in a book I keep on my nightstand.

  10. OT: So much for comedians as agents of foreign diplomacy

    http://blogs.reuters.com/great…..al-crisis/

    1. “. . . is demanding that Merkel’s government sanction an investigation under an obscure German law that prohibits insulting foreign leaders.

      . . . even more. If she allows it, she lets the prickly Turkish leader export his assault on freedom of speech to Germany. “

      Uhm, there *is no* freedom of speech in Germany to assault. The very fact that Germany has a law forbidding the insulting of foreign ‘leaders’ killed it long before Erdogan showed up.

      1. To act like anything and everything can be said is disingenuous. Every democracy puts limits ? via laws and norms ? on the type of speech acceptable in public. In the United States, it’s the use of the “N-word;” in Germany, the defamation of Jews or denial of the Holocaust. It’s doubtful Boehmermann would have considered reciting a similar poem about an Israeli leader.

        Wow.

        Hey Lucian – a big difference here is that saying nigger in the street in the US might get you an arse beating – it won’t get you arrested.

        Boehmermann first addressed “dear Turks” and lectured them about the freedom of expression anchored in the German constitution.

        Yeah – see above. If you have laws forbidding insulting foreign leaders, defamation of Jews, and holocaust denial then you DON’T have freedom of speech.

        1. Is it still illegal in Germany to sing the words to “Deutschland, Deutschland, ?ber Alles”?

          1. DDUA is the German national anthem and is sung. The NSDAP inspired verses are still banned.

            1. BTW, “?ber alles” does not mean what most of us think. It was an exhortation to celebrate the recent German unification. The Nazis twisted its meaning, unsurprisingly.

      2. Uhm, there *is no* freedom of speech in Germany to assault…

        Either we believe that there are inalienable rights inherent to our self-ownership or we don’t.

        Assuming we do, then Freedom of Speech is one of those; self-ownership necessarily implies the agency to speak our minds. That Germany denies the Liberty to freely exercise that Right does not remove or extinguish it, but assaults it instead.

        1. Notice I *didn’t* say ‘there is no right to freedom of speech in Germany’.

          When the freedom to speak freely is suppressed, sure you still have that *right* – but there is still no *freedom* to exercise that right.

          1. Fair enough.

  11. Most prison bureaucracies are an absurd blend of total indifference to inmates’ rights and tip-toeing around certain issues to avoid upsetting anyone.

    I’ve seen officers encourage inmates to hang themselves; I’ve seen them goad the inmates into doing things that will get them in trouble while assuring them that it’s OK; I’ve seen them laughing at inmates having psychotic episodes instead of calling the mental health staff like they’re supposed to.

    But then, I had to sit through a longass meeting about whether or not a female inmate should be given male undergarments if she is diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

    1. Maybe my “bubble” is too thick, but I cannot imagine committing the sadism that cops and prison guards seem to enjoy.

    1. Is it one of those religions that insists everyone is already a member, but most are too ignorant or misguided or deceived to recognize it?

  12. Does anyone seriously believe that it’s not a parody?

    Wicca is a similarly completely made up religion, but it’s not a parody, so it’s okay.

    1. Why does being a parody make it not a religion?

      1. All religions are parody, some just do a much better job of trolling.

      2. What exactly is a religion? At minimum, it’s seems like it is a belief system. If the adherents don’t actually believe in it, then it isn’t a belief system (at least as far as they are concerned) and so it isn’t a religion, it’s just words.

        Yes, judging the mindset of others is a messy thing, but mens rea already opened that can of worms.

        1. Fortunately, authorities are swiftly closing that can of worms by simply criminalizing many things and charging you anyway.

        2. And how do you know that someone, somewhere doesn’t believe in it? Furthermore, the government deciding what is and is not a religion is just asking for trouble.

      3. Why does it being a parody mean that Jonathan Swift shouldn’t be denounced for promoting race-based cannibalism??

  13. I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again. The problem with how most people view freedom of religion is that freedom of religion should not mean special exceptions for religious people. It should mean that any law that unreasonably infringes on anyone’s ability to practice their religion should not apply to anyone. Everyone has the same rights, whether or not they choose to exercise them.

    1. You’re correct. However, our journey to living under a Total State is what makes it not work any more:

      any law that unreasonably infringes on anyone’s ability to practice their religion should not apply to anyone

      When laws are limited to preventing people from aggressing against or stealing from each other (a limited government), this works a treat.

      When laws apply to every single aspect of your life, it stops working. Because the kind of legal system we have now will inevitably, and consistently “infringe on someone’s ability to practice their religion”. Hell, laws against religious discrimination infringe on, and thus discriminate against, some people’s religions.

      You can’t have freedom of religion unless the government is pretty minimalist.

      1. “You can’t have freedom of religion unless the government is pretty minimalist”

        ^ This.

      2. You can’t have freedom of religion unless the government is pretty minimalist

      3. You can’t have freedom of religion unless the government is pretty minimalist.

        FIFY

  14. Just think how much fun it will be when Hil-Dog and her Supreme Court pick overturn Citizens United and the courts get to sort out which corporations count as a “journalists.”

  15. I doubt Mr. Cavanagh will read this, but EGC maintains prison outreach services, in case you actually want to improve yourself instead of mocking people.

    1. They repair pirate costumes?

    2. El Nasr Girls’ College, a school in Alexandria, Egypt

    3. in case you actually want to improve yourself instead of mocking people.

      That is all some of us have!

      *sobs*

      1. Take heart Crusty,

        I have met hundreds of individuals in my life and I have observed several of them elicit joy at the misfortunes of their fellow humans, and I have also seen thousands more (members of audiences in comedy specials, et cetera) responding to what suffices as entertainment to them.

        It seems that “othering” and mockery is what generates and maintains their self-esteem.

        You are not alone.

        (Honestly – you are not alone. Call upon individuals whom you can both trust and defend you against an uncertain future, and once together check your immediate surroundings. I have it upon good authority that a singular individual whose online moniker begins with a “W” and ends in a “y” has been stalking you recently.)

  16. He needed to cloud his request in gender and race college speak.

  17. And it is no more tenable to read the FSM Gospel as proselytizing for supernatural spaghetti than to read Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” as advocating cannibalism.

    This somehow seems to tie in with yesterday’s article.

    Also: May Judge John M. Gerrard’s colander forever close its holes to him, thereby denying him proper drainage.*

    Admittedly, this type of declaration is much more devastating to worshipers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who not only lose drainage capability but also adequate ventilation when wearing the colander.

    1. *Admittedly….

      I somehow misplaced my asterisk.

  18. The Flying Spaghetti Monster sounds … delicious.

    Um, yeah. Gotta go make dinner now.

  19. Customer support can be so bullshit.

    I’ve got two GPU’s and they won’t SLI – I already know why, one is a few months older than the other and a BIOS change makes them incompatible. Which is bullshit to mark them as SLI ready when you do this shit.

    So I’m going through CS and having to walk them through their scripts to get to the part where they see that the older GPU needs to be replaced because its not compatible with the newer one.

    And I have to repeatedly give the same information to the CS agent, then when the case gets booted to the next level – they ask for that info again.

    Because of this bullshit all its doing is taking something that should have been resolved (one way or another – even if they told me to fuck off) in less than a day has already taken 2 days of back and forth and still isn’t done.

    1. Couldn’t you just flash the bios in the oldest one to match the bios in the newer one?

      1. Aggy and DenverJ,

        I certainly mean no disrespect, yet I would like to know what any of this has to do with the meaning of plaid?

      2. 1. ‘Fraid not.

        2. Absolutely nothing, why do you ask?

    2. I haven’t the foggiest idea what GPU, SLI, or CS stands for.

      1. They are all Soviet spy agencies.

      2. GPU = graphics processing unit; the core processor in one’s video card.

        If you have 2 of them, it usually means “2 cards”. To make 2 cards run simultaneously, you need some kind of high-bandwidth port-bridge to make 2 normal PCI slots run like One Big One

        the 2 methods for this are either “Crossfire” (for AMD based cards) or “SLI” (for NVIDIA based cards)

        CS i presume means “customer service”

        1. some kind of high-bandwidth port-bridge to make 2 normal PCI slots run like One Big One

          I realize that this isn’t technically correct, or remotely like what these multi-gpu things are doing… but at the moment i wrote it, it seemed like the simplest way to say, “how to make 2 cards work like one”

        2. CS i presume means “customer service”

          YOU PRESUME WRONG.

          Unfortunately I can’t help either.

  20. That isn’t the case with Cavanaugh. So let me bring up another parody religion, the Church of the SubGenius. This sect is still in the hands of people who consider it a form of satire. But despite its deliberately absurd doctrines, the church has attracted some genuine believers.

    Worse than having true believers, didn’t anarchist Bob Black have a falling out with the Parody Church?

  21. But there must be a line beyond which a practice is not “religious” simply because a plaintiff labels it as such.

    The problem is the constitution giving people special rights by application of that label.

    If you say “your religion” has peyote as a sacrament, indulge.

    If I say I want to get high on peyote, I’m threatened with prison.

    1. This.

      It shouldn’t matter what you call it as long as it’s entirely voluntary and doesn’t harm anybody. So if you want to smoke peyote for fun or to communicate with the Great Spirit you can knock yourself out.

      In this case the prison should make reasonable, good faith accommodations for the inmates. A judge can decide what is reasonable given a prison’s primary concern with safety and order. He shouldn’t be deciding what is and isn’t an actual religion.

  22. I would like to apologize to all whores for comparing you to democrat politicians.

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/14/…..index.html

    1. Whores may increase your health-care hassles, but not as much as a socialist would.

  23. I’d say the key is whether the prisoner himself is sincere, not whether others in the religion are sincere.

    As Mr. Walker acknowledges, “It is overwhelmingly likely that Cavanaugh understands that Pastafarianism is a joke and that he filed his suit to make mischief.”

    For the sake of that minority of litigants whose rights are actually being violated, the courts have to look at each prisoner lawsuit. A prison or mental institution is the perfect place for sadistic administrators to screw over inmates over religion, and what better excuse than that they’re just enforcing a rule of the institution (“there’s always been pork on the menu!”).

    It seems like Cavanaugh is like the vast majority of inmate-plaintiffs who have too much time on their hands and simply want to stick it to the man by clogging up the courts.

    The fact that he chose to frame his particular BS complaint around Pastafarianism rather than, say, demanding in the name of Judaism the right to operate a kosher chicken slaughterhouse in the prison grounds, doesn’t affect the bottom line, which is he’s a troll who makes things worse for prisoners with *real* claims.

    1. the key is whether the prisoner himself is sincere

      Why is sincerity a legitimate test? If I chose to go to the Catholic service on Sunday and the prison guard decided that I’m only a C&E catholic or a Baptist, then they can deny me?

      1. I’d have to think about that example, in particular, I’d have to think about your example which is a fairly obvious violation of religious freedom even under the *Smith* decision versus examples of religious freedom recognized and protected by RLUIPA.

  24. Carlson from the blue line!

    I’m just sayin’.

  25. I’m glad there was a reference to J.R. “Bob” Dobbs on this story, and, indeed, the Church of the SubGenius.

    I would point out, however, that the Church of the SubGenius is both hilarious spoof and serious–much like Discordianism.

    Read the Principia Discordia and tell me where the hilarity ends and the seriousness begins. They’re inseparable, but don’t take my word for it:

    “The religion has been likened to Zen based on similarities with absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai school, as well as Taoist philosophy. Discordianism is centered on the idea that both order and disorder are illusions imposed on the universe by the human nervous system, and that neither of these illusions of apparent order and disorder is any more accurate or objectively true than the other.

    There is some division as to whether it should be regarded as a parody religion, and if so to what degree.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discordianism

    Yeah, the Law of Fives is both satire and serious.

    . . . not that our First Amendment rights should be subjected to any form of rationality test. The First Amendment protects smart speech, stupid speech, smart religions, stupid religions–and if this guy finds some sort of comfort in expounding his beliefs, then they should be respected. In fact, if he’s expounding Discordianism, his religious beliefs may be more rational than average.

    1. The Church of the FSM is every bit as serious as the Church of the SubGenius.

      1. It cannot be as serious as the Church of the SubGenius unless it is also as unserious as the Church of the SubGenius.

        And it should be noted that “Bob” encouraged people to start their own damn religions:

        “Therefore, in his Church our “Bob” has included many built-in Alienation
        Devices to prevent false Pink interpretation while encouraging the real,
        down home SubGenii to start their own damn religions.

        —-Chapter 1, The Book of the SubGenius

        This guy may, in fact, be a member of The Church of the SubGenius.

        1. One of the central figures in the Baha’i faith is called B?b, which to my unenlightened ears is indistinguishable from Bob.

    2. our First Amendment rights should be subjected to any form of rationality test. … if this guy finds some sort of comfort in expounding his beliefs, then they should be respected.

      The USSC doesn’t subject religions to any ‘rationality’-test; indeed the term is probably completely inappropriate.

      But the courts have on multiple occasions subjected claims of religious protection to scrutiny to determine if beliefs were “Sincere and deeply held”, part of shared-practices, has an identifiable history/tradition, originates in a text etc.

      the courts have never actually ever clearly defined religion, but they have whipped out these sorts of tests when trying to figure out when something may or may not be protected.

      The short of it is that the law would probably not accept that an individual’s mere “comfort in expounding a belief” rises to free-exercise.

      1. I know it’s come up with Adventists with conscientious objector status.

        The test usually has to do with whether you’ve expounded your beliefs in public.

        https://www.sss.gov/consobj

        I don’t suppose it comes up as often now that we don’t have a draft, but they used to want you to prove that you’ve talked about your beliefs to somebody in public before. They typically get a letter from a minister, a youth pastor, etc.

      2. They have a long history with Adventists, conscientious objector status, and having them prove their faith. I know the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor was an Adventist, and some people think they used to favor drafting Adventists for a long time because so many of them would volunteer for Operation White Coat–so they could keep the Sabbath while they were drafted.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Whitecoat

        Anyway, seeking to establish that the person in question has stated his religious beliefs in public to other people seems like a reasonable test to me. It’s not like you can just claim to believe something that no one ever heard you say before. It’s one to have expounded on your beliefs consistently over time; quite another to suddenly decide you believe something you never told anyone about before. Ultimately, somebody has to ascertain whether your claim to belief is credible, and the testimony of people who can vouch for you seems like a reasonable minimum requirement.

        And if it’s good enough for when you get drafted to claim conscientious objector status, it should be good enough for when you’re in jail. Give the man his pirate costume!

        Argh!

        1. Welsh v. United States

          Welsh v. United States represented another conscientious-objector case …. The Court in this 1970 decision went one step further and essentially merged religion with “deeply and sincerely held moral and ethical beliefs” The Court suggested individuals could be denied exemption only if “those beliefs are not deeply held and those whose objection to war does not rest at all upon moral, ethical, or religious principle but instead rests solely upon consideration of policy, pragmatism, or expediency.”

          but then =

          Wisconsin v. Yoder

          [paraphrase] Not all beliefs rise to the demands of the religious clause of the First Amendment. There needs to be evidence of true and objective religious practices, instead of an individual making his or her standards on such matters.

          In evaluating [such] claims, we must be careful to determine whether the religious faith and their [expressions demanding protection] are, as they claim, inseparable and interdependent. … the very concept of ordered liberty precludes allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests. [determining what deserves protection requires demonstration of] deep religious conviction, shared by an organized group, and intimately related to daily living…

          Simply “expounding your beliefs in public” would seem to fall short of these kinds of tests

          1. Ultimately, you’re talking about the testimony of the people who say you hold these beliefs, and you’re talking about whether the draft board believes that testimony.

            It’s the credibility of witnesses as opposed to just making it up for yourself.

            From my link at the Selective Service website above:

            “In general, once a man gets a notice that he has been found qualified for military service, he has the opportunity to make a claim for classification as a conscientious objector (CO). A registrant making a claim for conscientious objection is required to appear before his local board to explain his beliefs.

            He may provide written documentation or include personal appearances by people he knows who can attest to his claims. His written statement might explain:

            how he arrived at his beliefs; and
            the influence his beliefs have had on how he lives his life.

            The local board will decide whether to grant or deny a CO classification based on the evidence a registrant has presented.

          2. My point is that I don’t see anything wrong with basing the credibility of belief on eyewitness testimony. It’s not like they’re saying, “Well, now that I’ve been drafted, carrying a gun offends my religious beliefs”.

            Adventists, for example, typically say, “I want to do my patriotic duty and I’ll go to the front lines and serve if you send me, but I’m an Adventist, and that means I’d rather go to prison than kill somebody. I have signed testimony here from the ministers where I’ve gone to church since I was a kid, my school principal, and my boss at work, and they’re all in agreement that these have been my beliefs.”

            Publicly proclaiming your beliefs so that others can testify to their existence seems like a good enough standard to me. The other criteria you’re talking about (the depth of belief), likewise, are also about the credibility of testimony. You certainly shouldn’t have to prove that you’re as perfect as Jesus to prove that you’re a Christian. They will contact your references to verify that they wrote what they wrote and meant what they wrote, and they go by that witness testimony. Seems reasonable to me.

            If you’re claiming something is against your religious beliefs and they ask you to prove it, I don’t know what else you can reasonably be expected to do other than get witnesses that have seen you “expound your beliefs”.

            1. I should add that it’s probably easier for Adventists becasue Adventist conscientious objectors have been serving on the front lines as medics with distinction since at least World War II.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmond_Doss

              I’m sure if you tell the draft board you’re an Adventist, they’ve got a process for that.

              I don’t know, but you tell them you won’t carry a gun becasue you’re a Wiccan and maybe it’s more of a judgement call.

  26. Let us suppose one of those misguidedly earnest SubGenii is locked up somewhere, and let us suppose she requests that her religious rituals be accommodated. Nothing even as disruptive as a pirate suit; just the same sorts of privileges that Christians and Muslims and Wiccans and Scientologists receive. Should her request be granted?

    Whoa whoa whoa. Back up there a minute. You mean to tell me the Wiccans and Scientologists already have the official state seal of approval? So they’re in but the Pastafarians, and the Dobbsians are out? That’s a might blurry line you got there judge.

  27. He shoots. He scores!

    I’m just sayin’.

  28. It might have helped his case if he could demonstrate anyone who actually takes this parody religion seriously. If no one demonstrates sincere belief, then it doesn’t need to be taken seriously. From what I’ve seen, Pastafarianism is based on a bunch of lies, in an effort to make it look as much like Christianity as possible, while attempting to make Christianity look as ridiculous as possible. That’s difficult to argue as a serious religion.

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