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Pastafarian Inmate Sues Prison

Published November 7th, 2014 by Bobby Henderson

pirate

In FSM news — Nebraska prisoner Stephen Cavanaugh is suing over the right to pursue his faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Specifically he wants:

* to dress in religious garments — that is, full pirate regalia — and,

* to take part in weekly meetings with others who hold similar beliefs

He’s also asking for $5 Million in damages related to “deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain resulting from being allowed to practice my religion, and Mr. Bartlet [Religious Coordinator, Nebraska State Pen]’s repeated mocking and insulting of my faith.”

I’m skeptical of anyone asking for money, and my immediate thought was that this is a frivolous lawsuit. But after reading the court documents and talking with people in the know, I feel that here is a troubled guy who is legitimately trying to pursue his faith and, only after being stymied by the in-house prison channels, was forced to take the fight to the courts. Yes the dollar amount he’s asking for is exorbitant (and in my view, hurts his case), but the underlying complaint feels legitimate to me.

One thing I found alarming: in the court docs there’s a claim by prison officials that, when looking into Cavanaugh’s religion, they found “the founder of Pastafarianism stated that it was a parody of religion”, and used this as a reason to deny Cavanaugh his requests for religious garments and group prayer.

They may or may not be referring to me, I don’t know — but I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to any Nebraskan prison officials, and if I did I wouldn’t have used those words.

For the record, I don’t believe Pastafarianism is a parody.

What I say, sometimes, is that some number of Pastafarians do not believe in a literal Flying Spaghetti Monster or our Creation story. And that is perfectly fine — it’s a common thing even in mainstream religion to be skeptical of scripture. The distinction is that in FSM, the culture is more accepting of people who are skeptical-minded, while in many mainstream religions, doubt is seen as an affront to the Dogmatic Truth.

My point is that there are doubters in religion in general, simply because religious scripture can be full of nonsense. You wouldn’t say Christianity is a parody just because some members don’t buy the part about the world being created in 7 days and the talking snake, etc.

Religion is more than a collection of beliefs and rituals, it’s a way to form community and a framework to make sense of our place in the universe. And on this level, I think Prison officials did Cavanaugh a disservice in not allowing him to pursue his faith. I mean, he wasn’t asking for that much. He wanted to buy a pirate costume with his own money and hang out with some other Pastafarians once a week.

One last point I’d like to make: lets consider that maybe the prison officials are simply unenlightened about the FSM. Maybe this is just a misunderstanding, rather than outright religious persecution. I suspect that Mr. Cavanaugh may be willing to call of the fight if the prison officials would relent and allow him to pursue his faith.

Here are the best articles I’ve found, if you’d like to keep reading about Cavanaugh’s case:

[1] Great article (and spectacular title) by ThinkProgress about the Cavanaugh lawsuit — Inmate Sues Prison Claiming His Religious Liberty Entitles Him To Dress Like A Pirate

[2] The raw court documents (PDF)

[3] Here’s an article where some lawyers are discussing whether the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster may have some influence in rethinking the RLUIPA (religion in prison) laws — Can the Flying Spaghetti Monster Reshape RLUIPA?



114 Responses to “Pastafarian Inmate Sues Prison”

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  1. Bobby Henderson says:

    Somewhat related — When reading about prison religious movements, I came across The Church of the New Song (CONS). It started in the 70s, the most notable thing about the group was that scripture pronounced the importance of conjugal visits and the eating of porterhouse steaks. The movement spread across many federal and state prisons until the courts put the Kabash on it.

    • SillyKiwiMan says:

      I like steak. I also am pleased to see that you’re still around. Have you been busy, or just testing our faith?

      In any case,

      Yarrgh.

    • Captain Birdseye says:

      Didn’t/don’t Rastafarians claim the religious freedom to use weed as their sacrament? Alcohol got through Prohibition that way. Most religious people do not believe in literal interpretations of their chosen religion, yet, receive religious concessions, including special diet. I wonder how Scientologists and Mormons deflect accusations of parody. Perhaps you will be subpoenaed to testify.
      Personally, I find the thought that The FSM watches over me very comforting and answers more of my questions about the meaning of life than any other deity.

      • Apprentice Frederic says:

        A little bit peripheral but worth noting is that there aren’t enough Pastafarian chaplains in the prison system….

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          AF, do you mean jailed, or, as pastoral visitors? Good idea; I might offer my services at the local prison, but, I doubt there would be any existing Pastafarians there. Perhaps prisons allow new converts, but, it would seem impossible to get a poster put up – unless Christians are allowed to.

        • Apprentice Frederic says:

          Cap’n B., See what you mean, that *was* equivocal, wasn’t it??? There are, indeed, opportunities for actual chaplaincy, albeit they seem to be regulated in the US. See, for example

          http://chaplaincyinstitute.org/prison-minister/

          I have to say in all seriousness that there would be a lot of courage involved in taking up a call to that ministry!

    • Keith says:

      Even if they did decide in his favour I think prison authorities would draw the line at providing Mr Cavanaugh with vast quantities of beer. Having said that, it is unfortunate that the C of FSM can no longer claim that none of our adherents have been jailed.

      • Captain Birdseye says:

        He might have been unfairly jailed, Keith. I suspect the clothing and beer request will be refused, but, association and spaghetti and meatballs would be easily achieved and might result in compete rehabilitation. Surely, The FSM reaches everywhere.
        The American legal system is an unending source of amusement.

      • TheFewTheProudTheMarinara says:

        No true Pastafarian would be jailed! Unless of course he took the schooner out for a spin after tarrying too long at the beer volcano.

        • Keith says:

          Arr! I’m a Scotsman and you’re not!

      • Ed the Fallen says:

        Actually, the C of FSM couldn’t make the claim before that none of the adherents had been jailed. I ruefully admit that I once succumbed to the temptation of easy money, and spent two years locked up in a federal prison – since it obviously wasn’t as “easy” money as I thought. Live and learn. Hard lesson, though. When I was locked up, the Wiccans were fighting for recognition and freedom to practice, there was already a recognition of a pagan group (which, as far as I could tell, was actually just a bunch of white supremacists) – not to criticize either of those two, Pastafarianism is a far more mellow religion that either – and should pose no threat to the Bureau of Prisons, but…

        • Keith says:

          Were you an acknowledged Pastafarian before or after your incarceration?

  2. Rasputin says:

    Even if the Pastafarian prisoner doesn’t win, perhaps there is a way for the Church of the FSM and the prisoner to obtain a book and movie deal. I anticipation of this, perhaps it’s possible to hire an attorney for the guy on a “no win no fee” basis. I envisage that the movie might use CGI special effects, with the FSM visiting the prisoner in his cell and touching him with his noodly appendage. Can somebody put the guy in contact with some scriptwriters? The plot doesn’t need to be identical to the real story. Imagine something which parodies every prison movie you’ve ever seen (Shawshank, Tango and Cash, Escape from Alcatraz etc.) in the same way that “The Naked Gun” / “Police Squad” parodied cop films. Add a few sequences which imitate religious films. There’s the section of “Ben Hur” in which Charlton Heston is dying of thirst and Jesus the carpenter steps out of his workshop and gives him water. So our guy is in his prison cell, starving hungry and saying, “Please God help me”. Then the FSM appears in His magnificence and feeds him, the prison cell becoming bathed in light with prison guards commenting on the sweet aromas of tomato and herbs.

    • Captain Hook says:

      RAMEN

  3. Kelly Grisom says:

    I have been following this story since the beginning. I happen to be a Corrections Officer as well as an openly Pastafarian Minister so for me this story hits about as close to home as it gets. The Pirate garb itself poses security issues as well as the beer (obviously), however an eyepatch, collander, or pirate bandana would pose absolutely NO security or escape risk. Furthermore, allowing this man to purchase a Flying Spaghetti Monster pendant from rof.com should not be an issue.

    Mr. Cavanaugh is serving a prison sentence for attempting to to assault two people with a hatchet. That being said, this lawsuit is not about his crimes but rather his religious freedom. Pedophiles and rapists are allowed to participate in religious gatherings, wear religious items, and are provided with kosher meals so why not an attempted assaulter? Jewish inmates are even allowed to purchase prayer shawls while Sikhs get turbans, Rastafarians get crowns, American Indians get to smoke peyote, and Wiccans can purchase tarot cards. Why can’t Cavanaugh purchase his items?

    The fact that Prison officials have falsely claimed to have spoken with our church’s founder clearly demonstrates that at least some of the people in charge have ZERO respect for anything that does not conform to their view of what constitutes a religion. Our religion deserves the same recognition as any other religon.

    • Keith says:

      I wonder if the colander would have to be a plastic one?

      • Kelly Grisom says:

        Most probably it would have to be the soft plastic kind and probably the clear translucent one so that no one could use the colors to represent gang affiliations.

        • Keith says:

          I wonder if wearing a fencing sabre (as opposed to a cutlass) would be allowed. I know from personal experience that fencing “weapons” can present a danger but nowhere near the dangers of the real thing (which I have also experienced).

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          Keith, a snapped foil is a lethal weapon. Where on Earth were you confronted with a cutlass?

        • Keith says:

          I’ve never experienced a cutlass but I have fenced with broadsword, rapier and dagger. Although they were blunted they can still be very nasty when a blow is not pulled properly, a thrust is not parried or the proper distance is not maintained. I have a scar on my right shoulder from a rapier and a slightly skewed right little finger caused by the uncaught blow from a broadsword.

    • Captain Birdseye says:

      Kelly, attempting to assault with a hatchet sounds more like attempting to murder. It would seem that your customer should be encouraged to find more peaceful ways of resolving his disputes. It is quite possible that Pastafarianism could help. I had no idea that American Indians could use peyote. How many prisoners claim heritage? What I find ironic is how people who criticise other religions often believe some very strange things. Perhaps their criticism will help them see the light. Just curious: may Sikh Corrections Officers wear a turban on duty?

      • Kelly Grisom says:

        Yes, in some places Native Americans can use peyote and where they cannot they are at least provided with tobacco. Yes inmates in American jails are allowed to smoke for religious purposes. They are also allowed to have sweat lodges. The number of people claiming heritage varies greatly depending on the state the prison is in and whether the jail is a federal or state facility. I won’t name my jail (only because I don’t want anyone to say that I am speaking as a representative of the facility instead of as an individual) but I can say that at times we have had at least a dozen or so participants. I’ve heard of other places where those numbers are a lot higher though, particularly in states with or near reservations. As for the Sikh officers, yes they can because it is a requirement of their faith and it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.

        • SillyKiwiMan says:

          Kelly, I take my tri-cornered hat off to you.

          You are up against it on so many levels: woman, non-christian, intelligent…

          I’m impressed and very happy to have a qualified opinion on this matter. Too often do things result in people living up to Dirty Harry’s little pearl of wisdom regarding opinions and anuses.

          Yarrgh.

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          Kelly, you may have guessed where my Sikh question was leading, but, I won’t ask. Keep up the good work, it must be challenging.

        • Keith says:

          Kelly, like SKM and the Cap’n I thank you for your comments and your insight. As I live in Australia and have (so far) kept my nose clean I have had no idea what things are really like in gaols, let alone American ones.

        • Kelly Grisom says:

          Thank you guys but I am not a women, I am a man LMFAO! I get that all the time. Perhaps I should put up a picture lol. I do appreciate your kind words though.

    • Rasputin says:

      It’s good to have input from a professional prison officer. Thankyou for your wisdom. If Sikhs and Jews can wear beards and be provided with special diets, surely our brother Pastafarian should be allowed a collander and lots of pasta.

  4. Agreed Guy says:

    Good, lad. Keep it going

    Didi Games

  5. Captain Birdseye says:

    Keith, no doubt your wounds were from repelling scurvy boarders. Perhaps a halberd would be a better tool. Or grapeshot.

    • Keith says:

      Grapeshot (as I have learned from experimentation) is erratic between 50 and 100 metres. Halberds are OK for knocking armoured men off of their horses but have limited flexibility in hand to hand due totheir two handed action. They are more difficult to use than spontoons, which have only one response: to jab.

    • Apprentice Frederic says:

      Halberd? Spontoon? As a child of the ’40s and ’50s this is way out of my league. I’ll keep tuning in to your conversations but I won’t be joining in due to my ignorance, LOFLMAO. But I’ll pay attention, it’s time to be a real apprentice!!!!!

      • Keith says:

        A halberd is a large headed axe on the end of a long pole. It is usually about 7 – 8 feet long and often has a blade at the top for thrusting. It is a two handed weapon. A spontoon is a broad blade at the end of a pole. Sometimes it is highly decorated and was used by junior officers both as a weapon and as a symbol of authority. The Yeomen of the Guard carry them.
        There are lots of exciting and amusing names for pole arms: glaive, guisarm and bohemian earspoon spring to mind.

        • Apprentice Frederic says:

          Thanks, Keith – interesting!!!!

      • TheFewTheProudTheMarinara says:

        Spontoons – are they used aboard double-hulled boats for holding tobacco juice?

        • Keith says:

          You might be thinking of poltroons.

        • theFewtheProudtheMarinara says:

          I thought poltroons were 1/8 chickens.

        • SillyKiwiMan says:

          Wouldn’t that be a spatamaran?

        • Keith says:

          1/8 chickens are Crampons.

        • theFewtheProudtheMarinara says:

          Crampons? Don’t ladies buy them at the drug store on a monthly basis?

      • Captain Birdseye says:

        AF, if marauders were attacking your ship, you may want something offensive on the end of a long stick, to get them before they land on your deck. Whatever suits your style, you may select from spikes, hooks, blades or axes on any length pole you like. Keith’s preference may be to hold a spontoon (curved sword on a short pole) in each hand and whirl them like a food-blender (think Samurai assassin). On my ship, I select a motley crew specifically to get diversity of choices, which is what defeats the enemy.
        As an apprentice pirate, surely, you have already chosen your close-combat weapons, such as mallet and ice-pick, from a smorgasbord of historical weapons laid out on the deck by the captain. Of course, during peaceful times, such weapons could also be used for tenderising steaks and making cocktails for the crew.

        • Keith says:

          My thoughts on the matter are: If marauders are attacking your ship, the first thing to do is to lay down some firepower. It needs to be an area effect weapon. The Dutch had the right idea with the blunderbuss, although shoving multiple balls down the barrel certainly dates back to Elizabethan times (I can’t find the exact reference but I read of it in a diary from that era). I’ve never tried it with my matchlock but I daresay it would work with a reduced charge (to guard against too much pressure building up in the barrel). I would not recommend the use of grenades. When the enemy is on the deck, pole arms would not be as effective as swords. The deck of a ship is limited in size and has a great deal of clutter.

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          Keith, Mythbusters tried all manner of projectiles in their canon, including cutlery, chain and a Parmesan cheese. The cutlery was useless. My impression of historical ship to ship combat is all from the movies. I liked the red hot canon balls.

        • Apprentice Frederic says:

          Aye, Cap’n: “Dual use” much on both sides of the Law of the Sea. The crew I serve with – sturdy they be! – fights scurvy with margaritas.

        • Oreganol Sin says:

          Am I the only one that bristled a little at the idea of using parmesan cheese as ballistic arms? Is it not sacred?

          Or does it have additional anti-marauding properties (like the anti-vampiring properties of garlic)?

          I know that the crew of the Sea Shepherd (many of whom are themselves Pastafarian) fire butter upon Japanese whalers, perhaps there is something to this dairy-based weaponry.

          For that matter, has garlic been properly tested against marauders?

        • Keith says:

          I think my main objection to using Parmesan cheese would be that it has a “splatter” effect, rather than a “scatter” effect. Having said that, meatballs would probably be more ballistically viable.

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          The given MB scenario was last resort projectiles. Interestingly, the Parmesan cheese went through a sail at about 50 metres, whereas, the cheddar disintegrated. Lengths of chain were best, but, depending on the ship’s cook, the meatballs may be lethal weapons and closest to grape-shot. Perhaps, a type of canon fodder?

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          OS, as the weapon of last resort, that may save the ship, I see firing the ship’s holy Parmesan cheese as bestowing a type of blessing.
          AF, a brilliant discovery that Margaritas cure scurvy.

        • Keith says:

          Well, that’s surprising about the Parmesan. Perhaps it was the FSM’s divine intervention.

  6. Captain Birdseye says:

    Keith, I was surprised to read that Mediaeval military writers rated the 18-foot pike as the dominant weapon against sword and dagger in single combat. However, I suspect one couldn’t let one’s opponent get within 20 feet. Where does one conduct experiments with grapeshot?

    • Keith says:

      18 foot pikes are fine as long as there are lots of people huddled together and holding the things in the same direction. A hedge of pikes can be formed 3 or even 4 ranks deep. They are not easy to handle (when charging your pike the best method is to steady the rear end by twisting your hand around and effectively locking the forearm around it). After firearms became dominant it became common to have a pike block in the centre formation and musketeers on the flanks.

  7. Captain Birdseye says:

    Keith, I suspect that just a decent bow and arrow ended the phalanx-of-pike’s supremacy. I like the halberd to slice my tobacco. Still curious about the waters in which one might need grapeshot?

    • Keith says:

      Pikes became redundant after the invention of the bayonet. Once the plug bayonet gave way to a collared bayonet the soldiers had the best of both worlds (apart from the long reach). Some of the reasons why the bow was superseded by the musket were that the musket did not require years of training to use effectively. It was also possible to carry more ammunition in a more convenient form and did not require specialists to make (the musket was, on the other hand, did require specialists) As for the other issue, when you are a kid you get up to all sorts of things.

      • Captain Birdseye says:

        Keith, a friend of mine had a small model cannon in solid brass. Or course, as 10-year-olds we unpicked fireworks to get the charge and small fishing weights fitted neatly. It worked rather well.

  8. Rasputin says:

    Our Pastafarian deity is just as real and authentic as the deities of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and the rest. If the prison authorities have any serious doubt as to whether Pastafarianism is valid, they should organise a test. Ask for ministers from three or more religions to attend a meeting at the prison along with an ordained Pastafarian minister. Then require each of the ministers to call upon their deity to perform a simple task: Maybe unscrewing a top from a bottle or levitating a coin, but not turning water into wine because that kind of thing might be difficult. I can absolutely guarantee that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will accomplish the task to the same identical degree as the other deities. Therefore the FSM is equally valid and deserves the same level of respect. Either the prisons need to accept ALL religions or none. To pick and choose, saying “We’ll accept these religions but not yours,” is fascism. It’s how the Nazis justified their death camps. We live in a world of wonder. Our wisdom is enriched by a varied and pluralist approach. If I want to dress as a pirate and go “Oh aaarrr” then it’s got f**k all to do with anybody else unless I’m compelling others to participate against their will. Unless worshipping the FSM threatens prison security, I say: Let the guy get on with it. I very much hope that the guy receives printouts of this blog in his cell.

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