Pastafarians Face Religious Discrimination in New Jersey
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission does not accept the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a deity worthy of a religious-apparel photo wavier.
When resident Aaron Williams, 24, arrived at a MVC facility this month to have his driver’s license photo taken, workers refused to snap the picture. Why? “The issue was when Williams went to take his picture for license was wearing a pasta strainer on his head [sic],” according to a police report.
Head coverings are forbidden in license photos, unless the wearer qualifies for a religious exemption. No problem, Williams said — the colander was in fact a piece of apparel mandated by his professed religion, the timeless faith of Pastafarianism.
“The strainer is a showing of my devoutness to the religion,” Williams told a local news source.
Pastafarians worship a being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and preach a “rejection of dogma” with “no strict rules and regulations . . . no rote rituals and prayers and other nonsense.” The religion was founded in 2005 in response to a plan by the Kansas School Board to teach intelligent design in school science classes.
Followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have a history of being discriminated against in the U.S., despite the equal protection clauses in the Constitution. On at least two occasions, local governments have denied Pastafarians the right to put up wintertime displays on public property next to other religious decorations like nativity scenes.
There is precedent for religiously-motivated cookware being allowed in driver’s license photos, just not in this country. An Austrian Pastafarian in 2011 won a three-year battle to have his official photo taken with a strainer on his head. Officials made him pass a mental competency test first, then insisted that the photo exception was only made because his whole face was visible, not for any religious reasons.
Fortunately for everyone, the New Jersey incident ended without any major disturbance or arrests. A police officer who responded to the scene advised Williams that he would have to apply to the state to officially qualify for a religious photo exemption, Williams agreed to be photographed without his colander, and no bystanders were harmed.
“Had it been a turban or a head scarf, or something from a mainstream religion, then it would’ve been fine,” Williams said. “I guess since they hadn’t heard of the religion, that’s why they opposed it. But that’s not really acceptable to me. They’re not in a position to discriminate against religions that are mainstream, or not mainstream, just because they may not have heard about it.”
There are no plans for a lawsuit at this time.