Pastafarian Inmate Sues Prison

Published November 7th, 2014 by Bobby Henderson


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”

  1. Stephanie says:

    If he was sincere it’d be a slightly different story. He used to work for me (I was an assistant mgr.) He didn’t have this religion then and made a mockery of religions. He is also in prision because he chased a couple with a hatchet! He is lacking something in the brain, so this is a frivolous lawsuit.

    • The Sauceror says:

      Dear Stephanie, I have mixed feelings about this too. I was kind of hoping that Mr. C. was in prison for something political, like illegally wearing a colander in public, with or without other clothing.

      • Rasputin says:

        Dear Stephanie, he chased a couple of what? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt unless he was chasing a couple of borched mesoms.

        • The Sauceror says:

          Dear Rasputin, it seems unlikely that we need to worry too much about the borched mesoms. If Mr. Cavenaugh had chased a couple of borched mesoms with a hatchet, we would not be talking about Mr. Cavenaugh’s prison woes. The borched mesoms simply would have eaten Mr. Cavenaugh– hatchet and all.

    • Brother Pasta says:

      Stephanie, a lot of inmates discover their faith while in prison, mostly because of the weekly meetings Cavanagh is talking about.

      Therefore denying him of having his own meetings seems illogical.

    • stephen cavanaugh says:

      First, you have your facts wrong. I allegedly chased a man and his friend with a hatchet. But I maintain my innocence.
      Second, just because I didnt flaunt my religious beliefs in the workplace does not mean that I did not have them then. I simply didnt feel the workplace was an appropriate area for religious discussions.

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  3. Cobalt Pasta-marshall chapter says:

    I support this man and his fight for religeous equality, but I think that the 5 million he may or may not recieve (I havent read the court files, YET) should go to charity, as the teachings of the pastafarian Bible recommends

    • stephen cavanaugh says:

      I am Stephen Cavanaugh. The inmate who filed the lawsuit. I was released Thursday morning. I do not expect to actually win any money with the lawsuit, there were numerous technical reasons why I had to ask for money, the most important being that if I didnt then the lawsuit would automatically be dismissed upon my release and I knew it would take years to work its way through the courts. 5 million is the max allowed by Nebraska Statutes so thats why I chose that number.
      Rest assured that any and all money I may get from this lawsuit will be dedicated exclusively to furthering the cause of the church.

      • Gnocchi Pudding says:

        Dear Mr Stephen Cavanaugh,
        Please keep us in mind when you are awarded damages for the religious persecution you have suffered.
        (We beach bums are notoriously broke)

        I have converted (to our Pastafarian Faith,) the entire heretofore Christian group – of un-salaried lifesavers/life-guard recruits of our local little beach. I have had to conduct our church services from a skanky little dinghy moored beside the kiddies’ tidal pool.

        We would like to afford our own large church building, which, we’ve all agreed, should be a replica, humongous, pirate ship. Our Very The Reverend Grey Beard will confirm how jolly expensive such an undertaking is. We are regularly holding cake, lemonade and cookie sales at the clubhouse and have raised a fair bit of money ourselves but we don’t think it will be quite enough.

        We envisage more FSM Pirateship churches – Places Of Worship ships – moored along quay sides all over the world, so people can pray, just like most airports world-wide have special rooms where the Muslims can pop in to worship and pray, (and also the chapels now supplied for Christians.)

        I’m pleased you’ve Passed Go and are now out of jail. WELL DONE! May FSP bless you.

  4. Rasputin says:

    Is the prison inmate’s battle still in progress?

  5. Snickersnack says:

    I loved this post. I’m sure he’d be happy with the guards simply acknowledging his rights as a Pastafarian. The $5,000,000 does seem a little much, but who’s to say he hasn’t suffered to that extent? Seems like everyone would be better off just letting him penetrate a bowl of spaghetti daily. R’amen.

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  7. Vincent Dupire says:


    Well, can we say “over stepping the bounds of the court”? Guess what folks, the US government’s District Court in Nebraska has just declared our religion invalid. We all need to stand up and fight this, no court should have the ability to declare a religion invalid, especially ours, of course. Where will it end?

    • stephen cavanaugh says:

      not to worry. the decision was appealed. there are definitive legal definitions for “religion” and The Church of the FSM meets them all. my appeal will be successful and we will have recognition.

  8. Rasputin says:

    It’s rotten! Mr. Cavanaugh has lost his court case! The f**kwit judge has ruled that Pastafarianism isn’t a religion!

    • Captain Birdseye says:

      Rasputin, it won’t end there! Said Judge will be petitioned for a definitive legal test for what is a religion, and, what religions fail that test.
      Some fundamentalists vigorously claim that Christianity is not a religion. Would said Judge use that against all Christians?

      • Rasputin says:

        I hope Mr. C’s attorney supplies print-outs of the messages of support he’s getting from around the world.

        • Rasputin says:

          Is the legal decision NOT to recognise Pastafarianism as a religion contrary to the US Constitution? Surely there’s a section in the Constitution which says there shall be no laws made in respect of religion. Has this judge violated the Constitution?

        • stephen cavanaugh says:

          Rasputin, I do not have a Lawyer. I am conducting the lawsuit completely on my own. I did not have a chance to see any of these comments until today and I appreciate your support. I may be contacted directly at [email protected] if anyone would like to discuss the progress of the case.

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