The legal apparatus in British Columbia remains untouched by His Noodly Appendage after a quasi-historic ruling on the human rights status of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Last week, the Supreme Court of British Columbia decided to uphold the BC Human Rights Tribunal’s dismissal of religious discrimination claims made by an ordained Pastafarian minister who was not permitted to wear a pirate’s tricorn in his driver’s license photo.
In 2019, Gary Smith attempted to renew his license while wearing the hat, which he claimed as an expression of his religious beliefs. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) refused to issue the license, citing the hat as a violation of their rules, so Smith brought the case to the Human Rights Tribunal in what BC’s Civil Liberties Association called “a very interesting constitutional challenge and test case.”
But the Human Rights Tribunal disagreed, drawing a distinction between actual religion and satire:
While the protection against discrimination on the ground of religion in the Code includes protecting the expression of non-belief and the refusal to participate in religious practice, the protection does not require accommodation of a practice satirizing religious practice in providing a service customarily available to the public. It would not further the purposes of the Code to proceed with a complaint in these circumstances.
Smith asked them to reconsider, professing to be insulted by their characterization of his faith, but the Tribunal stood firm. Undaunted, Smith filed a petition in BC’s Supreme Court, asking them to overturn the Tribunal’s ruling.
A person does not have to look far past one’s own nose to appreciate that all religions are mutually incompatible to varying degrees and that members of each regularly mock, satirize, and criticize the beliefs of others. Consider the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: while all three have a common origin and worship the same god, a non-Jew is a gentile, a non-Christian is a heathen, and a non-Muslim is an infidel. When one considers the millions of gentiles, heathens, and infidels who met with a gruesome end for not believing in the ‘right’ religion, it may be considered high time that a religion that values humour, self-deprecation, and silliness is the vessel sailing to calmer seas.
The Supreme Court acknowledged some “intellectual and thought-provoking insight” in his appraisal of religion as a whole, but elected to uphold the Tribunal’s decision:
If anything, the petitioner’s submissions buttress the Tribunal’s determination that the petitioner’s “religious practices” were, at least in part, satirical and that nothing was alleged that, if proven, could contravene the Code.
It is worthy of note that, in his March 14, 2019 letter seeking reconsideration of the Decision, the petitioner does not deny that his purpose is to satirize religions… Indeed, during his submission to the court, the petitioner conceded that “there may be some elements of satire” in his practices and those of the “religion” he purportedly follows.
A quick glance at the origins of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — which grew out of an argument against Intelligent Design in the classroom — might support the court’s decision. But it’s worth noting that the official bodies of other countries and regions have reached different conclusions about the validity of Pastafarianism as a religious statement. The Pastafarian colander has been recognized as religious headgear in Austria, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, and some American states. Governments in the Netherlands and New Zealand have given the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster official recognition.
For those governments, all it takes is an assertion that the colander or pirate tricorn is an important part of one’s belief system; it’s not up to the government to pass judgment on that desire. Satirical or sincere? That’s between you and your dinner plate.