A few years ago, Austrian Niko Alm won the right to wear a colander, the official headgear for Pastafarians, in his driver’s license picture:
And now it’s happening again.
On May 9th, Donald Hoover went to renew his license in Pekin, Illinois. He figured wearing a colander wouldn’t be a problem since state law allows for “religious head dressings not covering any areas of the open face.” The person assisting him, after speaking with his superiors, eventually told Hoover he couldn’t wear it because Illinois didn’t recognize Pastafarianism as an official religion.
That led Hoover to write a letter to the Secretary of State General Counsel asking for a better reason for his rejection:
I realize a lot of you are rolling your eyes over this, but I think there’s a valid point to be made here: What makes one religion any more “acceptable” than another? On what grounds can a state official reject a Pastafarian’s headgear but not a Muslim woman’s hijab?
A week later, Hoover got a response back from Nathan Maddox, a Senior Legal Advisor for the state. After explaining his support for both the First Amendment and public expression, Maddox pointed out that a satire of a religion is not a religion:
We don’t allow satirical headgear. These photographs are not forums for personal expression. They are a means of identifying the holder of the drivers [sic] license.
Maddox added that no one would be allowed to give the middle finger in a driver’s license photo, either, for the same “personal expression” reason.
Hoover wasn’t satisfied with that response. He wasn’t blocking anyone from identifying him any more than a yarmulke would. And, again, who’s to say what religion is satire? If we’re judging religion by the “silliness” factor, then Pastafarianism would fall in the same grouping as all the other ones. The Supreme Court, too, has said the government cannot decide if a belief is valid or not based on established religious doctrine.
So Hoover pressed on:
Just to go ahead and get it out of the way, my head dressing does not seem to meet the criteria for exclusion under “peace or safety of the State” as it does not obscure facial features, nor does it obscure to a greater extent than say a yarmulke or turban would. As was stated in my previous letter, I took great care to make sure the brim of my headdress was level with my hairline in order to be compliant with the code.
I would also request that you refrain from citing Wikipedia.org in future replies. I am interested in the legal standing of the law, not irrelevant and un-academic laymen’s interpretations of my faith. I would appreciate a focus in the future on citing relevant codes, laws and case law.
Again, I like the pushback here. There are so many questions that are going unanswered:
If state officials are going to discredit a religion, shouldn’t they be able to do so on a stronger foundation than it sounds goofy?
Even if Prophet Bobby Henderson intended Pastafarianism to be satirical, do all practitioners have to feel the same way? (Hell, just look at Scientology.)
If Hoover has a sincerely held religious belief — he even has a FSM tattoo on his chest — why should the state deny him the colander?
What about all those people who profess to be Jedis? Would they, too, be rejected despite the abundance of Jedi-religion-related websites and doctrine?
Going back to the free speech issue, are Illinois state officials privileging religious beliefs over non-religious beliefs?
Simply put, if the state wants to reject Hoover’s request, then they need to prove that he’s insincere about his faith. Otherwise, there’s no reason to treat his beliefs any differently from, say, a Muslim’s or Jew’s.
Hoover is currently looking for a lawyer who might be willing to help him make his case pro bono. For now, it looks like the state really doesn’t have a legal basis to say no to him.
And how could anyone say no to this devout believer?