Stephen Cavanaugh, who identifies himself as a Pastafarian and member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, may have been incarcerated by the state of Nebraska but he has not shied away from filing a legal complaint against the state’s Department of Corrections. According to Cavanaugh’s complaint, he requested the prison authorities to give his church an “accommodated status” that would allow its adherents to order and adorn religious attire as well as meet for weekly worship.
Cavanaugh’s complaint cited The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which he claims is the holy book for all adherents of Pastafarianism. According to his letter, it is disrespectful for Pastafarians to preach or practice their religion without wearing the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s chosen outfit. The complaint then goes on to explain that that is exactly why he feels as though he has been compelled to choose between infuriating his God by not practicing his religion at all and angering his God by practicing his religion in an inappropriate outfit. Even though Cavanaugh’s complaint does not specify what constitutes the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s chosen outfit, the Gospel he has cited is quite explicit about Pastafarians having to wear complete Pirate regalia.
Court documents attached with Cavanaugh’s letter of complaint clarify that prison officials had in fact contacted the founder of Pastafarianism, only to be informed that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody of organized religion. That is the reason, the documents suggest, prison authorities decided not to dedicate facility and administrative resources towards this cause.
However, Evan Seeman and Dwight Merriam, two attorneys who defend clients sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the federal statute governing religious liberty cases in prisons, believe, “[t]here has been a trend of the courts to bypass an analysis of whether an inmate’s claimed religion is actually a legitimate religion and whether their claimed belief is actually a tenet of that faith.”
According to both Seeman and Merriam, all an inmate has to do is say that he or she has a “sincere” religious belief and the burden automatically shifts to the concerned prison to overcome a difficult legal battle.
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