I assume by now that most of you are familiar with the Pastafarians. Better known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, this particular religion believes in their right to wear pasta strainers on their heads and … probably some other things, though I’m not entirely sure. Thus far their members have not only amassed a following in the United States, but won the right to wear their culinary oriented head gear in drivers license photos. But there are many other rights and privileges which come with running an organized religion and their members would like to enjoy all of them. One judge has brought the gravy train to a halt, however, saying that this is all just silliness. (Patch.com)

“Pastafarians,” who worship the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, just want to be recognized as a full-fledged religion.

A federal judge, though, says that’s im-pasta-ble.

The decision stems from federal civil lawsuit filed by Pastafarian Stephen Cavanaugh, also known as “convicted attempted-murderer.”

Cavanaugh had demanded that Nebraska penitentiary officials accommodate his religious beliefs while behind bars, insisting that he was part of a small but devout group following the divine “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

When the prison dispute came to a boiling point, Cavanaugh filed suit.

In prison, Mr. Cavanaugh had demanded to be allowed to wear a pirate costume as his religious clothing to be served spaghetti and meatballs for communion. The judge, apparently unimpressed with the claim, said that “FSMism” is more political statement than deeply held religious belief. Herein lies the sticky wicket in terms of the First Amendment.

Before delivering any sort of pronouncement on the subject, I should note by way of full disclosure that I am a reverend in an unconventional church myself. Or at least I think I am. Back in my young and single days in the late seventies I sent in a coupon from a magazine with a small payment (I think it was five dollars) to the “Church of the Howling Pines.” I did it as a lark, of course, but they sent me a small, wallet size card certifying that I was, in fact, a minister. When I went looking for it a few years ago I found that it had been lost in one of my many moves over the ensuing decades, but I don’t recall there being any sort of expiration date on it so I believe I may still be a Man of the Cloth. (If any of you are looking for someone to conduct your marriage ceremonies I can promise some bargain basement rates.)

Do I think of that as an actual religion or take my standing as a preacher seriously? Obviously not. I’m fairly sure I was drunk when I sent in the form because I could really have better used the money for something else in those days. The point here is that it was a joke. I don’t consider Howling Pines to be a “real church” in any sense of the word. But if others who entered into the same agreement did, do I have the right to deny them their claim to church status? Does the government?

For all the humor that the colander wearing Pastafarians provide, and even if they seem to partially admit that they are just making fun of actual churches, where can the government draw the line? There were some hippies, if I recall correctly, who started their own “religion” some years ago so they could partake in pot smoking and the consumption of psychedelic mushrooms as part of their “ceremonies.” It looked to me like a blatant attempt to use religious freedom as a dodge to get around existing drug laws and the courts eventually agreed, but I always found the case troubling. There are Native American tribes who do pretty much the same thing and they are absolutely serious about their beliefs which stretch back longer than we’ve been a nation. Can we deny them their religious rights?

The Pastafarian in prison was looking to upset the apple cart inside a penitentiary and be excused from normal rules and discipline. My gut instinct is to say that we shouldn’t allow that, but – again – where do we draw the line? Can we ban Muslim headdress in women’s prisons? For a truly extreme example, I have one friend here in my home town who insists that Judaism isn’t a “real religion” because Jews don’t accept Christ as the Savior. I don’t think he’d find any backers in the government or the courts, but it makes the point that religion is a very personal thing and politicians get into trouble whenever they dip a toe in those waters.

I’m not supporting the claims of the imprisoned Pastafarian here, but it does provide some food for thought.