How can you tell if a person’s religious beliefs are sincere enough to merit accommodation in law? And who gets to decide?
The case of Gary Smith revolves around that very question.
The Grand Forks resident and ordained Pastafarian minister has come into conflict with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) after they declined to accept pictures of him wearing a colander on his head for his driver’s license. The ICBC, which administrates all government-issued identification cards for the province, does not recognize Pastafarianism as a sincere religious belief.
In light of their decision, Smith has filed a complaint with British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal, telling reporters:
My religious head covering is an expression of my beliefs. I am being denied the right to express myself in a manner afforded to members of other beliefs and other faiths… There is no test of faith that any government agency, including ICBC, can apply to judge whether or not a person earnestly believes what they profess when they ask to be photographed with a religious head covering.
Smith argues that he cannot do his job without a driver’s license, since his work as a realtor frequently requires him to drive around the province. The policy, he says, impedes his ability to earn a living without compromising his beliefs.
Personally I’ve always found the Flying Spaghetti Monster to be pretty relaxed about headgear, more interested in what’s in your head than what’s on it, but who am I to argue with an ordained minister?
Smith further points out that he holds other licenses — such as his B.C. Marriage Commissioner license and his firearms license — in which he was permitted to wear another piece of headgear related to his beliefs: a pirate hat.
Pastafarians often argue that climate change is driven by the global decrease in pirates since the 1800s. Smith, who enjoys dressing as a pirate in his spare time, could argue he’s just doing his part to save the planet, as his faith requires.
This isn’t the first time the ICBC has faced questions about its policies regarding who gets to wear a head covering in a photograph, and who gets to decide whether someone’s religious beliefs are sincere. In 2014, a similar case brought up the same questions about whose head coverings are accepted as legitimate.
According to Smith’s GoFundMe page (first established in 2017), the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association has said the question “would make a very interesting constitutional challenge and test case.”
Thus far, Smith has not heard back from the Human Rights Tribunal about the status of his case. His current temporary driver’s license expires in days; he has said he will apply for a temporary extension while he waits for their response.
(Image via Facebook)