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The Flying Spaghetti Monster, a Religious Impasta?

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Throw out your colanders and get rid of all of your spaghetti, a Nebraska judge ruled that Pastafarianism is not a real religion.

Stephen Cavanaugh, a Nebraska inmate, sued Nebraska prison officials seeking $5 million in 2014, arguing that his religion should be treated like every other religion. He claims that he was mocked and harassed over his belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He also claims that prison staff would not provide accommodations for his religion, as they do with others, by refusing to allow him to meet for worship services, to wear religious clothing and pendants, and to receive communion.

Pastafarianism is the belief that the earth was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), who made it much like it is today. Members of the church say that heaven “has a Beer Volcano and Stripper Factory.” They also dress like pirates. Communion is taken by eating “a large portion of spaghetti and meatballs.”

Image Courtesy of Mark Atwood via Flickr

“Fremont Solstice Parade 2008: Flying Spaghetti Monster” courtesy of Mark Atwood via Flickr

In his ruling, released on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Gerrard wrote, “FSMism” is a “parody intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education,” rather than a religion explicitly outlined by federal law.

Cavanaugh is currently serving a four to eight-year sentence in the Nebraska State Penitentiary for assault and weapons charges.

This is not the first time that members of the FSM church have retaliated for not being treated like practitioners of a legitimate religion. There have been multiple cases of followers fighting for the right to wear the symbolic colander on their heads in driver’s license photos and to have the church’s flag on government property.

At the center of the controversy is the question of whether or not Pastafarianism should be considered a legitimate religion. Some lawmakers have argued that it isn’t, like in the case of Cavanaugh, but some scholars are hard-pressed to deny it that right.

“There’s an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in,” evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote in Wired. “If there’s not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it.”

In the age of religious freedom, the dismissal of religion by members of other religions seems contradictory. If the basis of religion is proof, then it is not quite certain how any religion can meet the criteria.

Lindsay Miller of Lowell, Massachusetts was denied the right to wear a pasta strainer on her head in her license photo. Headgear is not approved, unless for specific religious circumstances in Massachusetts, so Miller appealed. She was ultimately allowed to wear her strainer.

“The First Amendment applies to every person and every religion, so I was dismayed to hear that Lindsay had been ridiculed for simply seeking the same freedoms and protections afforded to people who belong to more traditional or theistic religions,” Patty DeJuneas, a member of the Secular Legal Society, said in a statement released by the American Humanist Association.

Ultimately, the state of Nebraska felt, “The essence of this action… is that prison officials believe the Plaintiff is not sincere in his religious beliefs about a flying lump of spaghetti that first created ‘a mountain, trees, and a midget.'”

Julia Bryant
Julia Bryant is an Editorial Senior Fellow at Law Street from Howard County, Maryland. She is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Economics. You can contact Julia at



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