On Tuesday a judge in Nebraska correctly dismissed a lawsuit by a prisoner who claimed his religious beliefs as a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster were not being honored.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is generally viewed as a parody religion. It began in 2005 as a satiric response to a decision in Kansas to teach intelligent design in public schools.
The inmate who filed the lawsuit claimed that as a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, he ought to be afforded the right to wear religious clothing and pendants, meet for weekly worship, take communion, and so on.
If you are curious what “religious attire,” a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster might want to wear, here’s an article about one member who filed an appeal against the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles in order to wear a colander on her head for her driver’s license photo. Judge Gerrard also notes in his ruling that the “Flying Spaghetti Monster Gospel” encourages adherents to wear pirate costumes and take communion in the form of “a large portion of spaghetti and meatballs.”
On Tuesday Judge Gerrard in Nebraska wrote,
“The Court finds that [the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement] is not a ‘religion’ within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence. 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 [the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement] contains a serious argument, but that does not mean that the trappings of the satire used to make that argument are entitled to protection as a ‘religion.’ Nor, the Court finds, has Cavanaugh [the inmate who filed the suit] sufficiently alleged how the exercise of his ‘religion’ has been substantially burdened.”
The lawsuit is significant, because the inmate who filed it invoked the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as Nebraska’s constitutional provisions protecting religious liberty and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
In spite of all this, the judge still dismissed the suit.
The dismissal highlights the simple fact that it is incredibly difficult to misuse or abuse the free exercise of religion. Lately when states consider religious freedom legislation–like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law in Arkansas last year–many people immediately raise concerns about possible ways the legislation might be abused. This case in Nebraska highlights the fact it is extremely difficult for a person to do so.
You cannot chalk any behavior up to “the free exercise of religion” and get away with it, plain and simple.