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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”

  1. Rasputin says:

    Dear Stephen, WELCOME !!! Try to sell your story to some comedy scriptwriters. There are lots of screenwriters who would see the merit of this story. I don’t know how you could do it, so I’m not much use.

    • Rasputin says:

      Hey Stephen, I put an entry on the first page of this blog a couple of years ago. Movie deal? Perhaps it’s impossible, but it’s worth trying.

  2. Captain Birdseye says:

    Stephen, most lawyers may well be over-paid bastards, but, their opinion is sometimes vital. Try getting free opinions from law school professors, retired judges, Legal Aid or Civil Liberties organisations. A computer is essential. These things can take years. Don’t let it dominate your life. Keep us posted.

  3. stephen cavanaugh says:

    Thank you Rasputin. I had not considered a movie deal, its something I’ll have to look into. Though I doubt anyone will be interested until the case is completely resolved. I like you description of the script.

    Captain Birdseye, I wrote to several lawyers while in prison. Most will not assist without payment upfront. Even the ACLU turned me down saying they would rather file a lawsuit for Atheist rights. I have much better resources now then I did while in prison so I believe the quality of my legal work will only go up from here.

    I will keep everyone up to date on any developments. Thank you all for your support, and may the FSM be with you.

    • Captain Birdseye says:

      Stephen, sometimes, getting all of your legal questions, point form, on one page, before hiring a lawyer for one hour (they charge $400/hr where I live), can be money well spent.

      • stephen cavanaugh says:

        That’s a great idea. Can I borrow $397.48?

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          Stephen, I have seen many people go in wrong directions on legal matters, wasting huge amounts of their time and effort. Even five minutes with a lawyer could save a year’s work and huge expenses, such as costs being awarded against, even at preliminary hearings. DIY-legal tends to dominate people’s lives, which may take ten years to get over.
          Other suggestions: download templates of the standard court forms (there are hundreds); sell your body; date a lawyer; read Made Easy books on Constitutional Law and Common Law; go to law school; hang around in bars in the legal sector of your city and offer to do a day’s yard-work, dressed as a pirate, in exchange for an hour; ‘Never do your enemy a minor injury’. (Machiavelli)

        • Captain Birdseye says:

          Stephen, a lawyer once explained to me that litigation is usually decided by ‘making the other side bear most of the costs’. Whilst a court may finally award a sum for ‘winning’ the case, the lawyers’ combined costs may well be much more. By simply using the wrong forms, wrong courts, late submissions, wrong claims etc. at the various Stages, Costs Against may be awarded at every Stage. As many people say: ‘The lawyers got all of the money’. Perhaps, adopt a strategy around that monetary basis and be perfect with your correct Forms, Submissions and Claims. In my country, if the Court awards the Damages claimed, the Respondent pays ALL of the costs; however, if one wins just $1 less, the Claimant pays ALL of the costs. It’s a costs-game of claiming an amount that one is certain to win and not making any procedural faults. Also in my country, ‘distress’ is not actionable; it must be some sort of physical damage or loss.
          Final suggestion: write a satirical script, train your friends as actors, borrow an HD video camera, borrow San Quentin and recreate, Monty Python style, the Denial of The FSM. Special effects could be The FSM appearing, inserted by a nerd.

        • Fat Bastard says:

          Stephen, I have brought three High Court actions for damages, all, sort of successful. Most litigation is settled on the steps to the Court. Settlement is usually on the basis that each party pays its own costs. In my country, the Perfect Hand is where the claimed amount is certain to be won and one rejects their final offer. Bear in mind the consequences of going into Court claiming just $1 too much. Roughly, the party with the most detailed records, accurate calculations and cheapest lawyers, wins.

  4. stephen cavanaugh says:

    I spent a LOT of time in the prison legal library teaching myself all of this stuff. I have all the templates that I have needed so far, and now that I’m out if I need any other forms I’ll be able to get them online. In America, whichever party “prevails” can recover all costs from the other side, which means even if I dont win any money but I get a declaration that FSMism is a “religion” then I can make the state pay for everything. But I cant find a lawyer willing to accept deferred payment like that. I like the selling my body idea, that might work. Any tips on how to get started?

    • Fat Bastard says:

      eBay?

  5. stephen cavanaugh says:

    I wrote and illustrated a (adult) childrens book while i was in prison. Amazon just published it as an Ebook. if anyone wants to buy a copy it will help with the lawyer fund. thank you.

    The book is about a Fluffy Bunny named Bob who goes over to his human friend jenny’s house on the day after Christmas to see what kind of gifts she got.

    https://www.amazon.com/Bob-Fluffy-Bunny-Christmas-Gift-ebook/dp/B01IOLOMKK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468935435&sr=8-1&keywords=Bob+the+Fluffy+Bunny+and+the+Christmas+Gift

  6. Rasputin says:

    BRILLIANT !!! Now here’s an idea.
    There is a new Steven Spielberg movie, “The Big Friendly Giant”, based on a story by Roald Dahl. Perhaps you could create an illustrated book about the FSM, and how He inspired you. Create it as a graphic novel for adults, in the style of “Family Guy” or the “Police Squad/Airplane!/Ted” movies. If you get it published, scriptwriters will become interested.
    Here are two books which I’ve always wanted to pitch, except I’m too lazy:
    1) How to Insult People in 20 Languages. – A book which lists insults such as “f*ck you” or “Your mother sucks c*cks” in various languages, with phonetic spellings so that any dummy can pronounce the phrases faultlessly.
    2) Dirty Bunny. – An adult book illustrated in the style of “The Gruffalo”, except that it’s about a bunny rabbit who f*cks everything that moves.
    Some years ago there was a best-selling series of books called “Wicked Willy”. Same kind of thing.

    • Fat Bastard says:

      Rasputin, you must have a very interesting library.

      • Rasputin says:

        Yeah FB, and all of my ideas stink.

    • Cap'n Grey Beard says:

      Ras,

      Firstly he would have to get permission from the Roald Dahl estate. This would be very hard to achieve and very expensive.

      As for your books the first one already exists or did. It was called “May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your pubic hair and other insults”

      Dirty bunny sounds more like your personal fantasy. lol

      CGB

      • Rasputin says:

        Dear Cap’n, you’ve misunderstood! I was using the BFG book as an analogy. First a guy writes and illustrates a book. Then it’s made into a movie. If our Respected Pirate Steve is already into writing books, perhaps he can write a graphic novel about how the FSM inspired him to become a pirate and chase people with a meat cleaver or whatever.
        SC is already a budding author, so this might be a useful topic for his next book.

  7. Cap'n Grey Beard says:

    Ah forgive my misinterpretation. But they say an author must write a mllion words before he is proficient. So perhaps pirate Steve has a way to go even if he has the talent of Mr Dahl.

    I believe that equates to a thousand words a day for three years. Stephen King is also quoted saying ‘that to be a success you must write a thousand words a day every single day.’ Whilst Pirate Stephen may have had significant time on his hands that is still a challenging task. It is quite a dedication.

    Then there’s getting the attention of the publishing industry. Equally onerous. One reuires notoriety to be taken seriously. I believe JK Rowling was turned down by almost every publishing house before she finally got a deal. I’m personally no fan of her work, i consider her an enormous plagiarist, i understand, however, that it’s extremely popular with children and small minded adults.

    In any case I wish pirate S the best of luck and once again point out that crowd funding, whilst inot a great way to raise money, it is a great way to get noticed.

    CGB

    • Rasputin says:

      Dear Cap’n & Pirate Steve, here’s how Steve can get a graphic novel published.
      First Pirate Steve buys some graphic novels to see what they look like. Then he spends 100 hours over a few months, planning his own graphic novel: Complete story, alternative plot twists and so on. Do a few dozen sketches to show the layout, but they don’t need to be to professional standard. Stick figures are quite adequate.
      Then contact some publishers for graphic novels: DC and Marvel come to mind, but there are several others. Say, “Hello I’m Steve, this is my story, find me on the internet. I want to create a graphic novel, based on my imprisonment and my conversion to His Noodliness. Please put me in touch with some illustrators”.
      The publisher provides a shortlist of illustrators, all of whom are hungry and want a good story. Steve contacts them. They communicate on the internet, swapping ideas and illustrations.
      After a couple of months, Steve and the illustrator have put together a working synopsis. They go to the publisher and say, “Here’s our rough of the plot and some illustrations. Commission us to complete the project”.
      1000 words a day ain’t that much. I’ve written a few hundred in this single comment. Plus Steve himself clearly has it in him. Look at his blogs, they’re correctly spelled and punctuated. Plus he’s already got one E-book under his belt.
      Steve has got a bl**dy good story, so he does not need to be any good at illustration. A lot of the graphic novel can comprise a theological exploration of the FSM. Plenty of that stuff is already on this site, waiting to be plagiarised.
      For funny gags and other material, simply trawl through the hundreds of web pages on these blogs. Discuss borched mesoms, Noah Zark and everything else.
      Seriously, I think we’ve got something here.

  8. Cap'n Grey Beard says:

    Very Interesting idea Ras.

    But why got to print? Surely it would be easier and cheaper to publish it online. If you look how Simon’s Cat has gone, wow! Simon doodled in his spare time. Now he’s worth a fortune.

    His secret was to keep his day job and get funding as he went. With merchandising and advertising. I think he felt poor for quite a while but when it caught it went like a rocket.

    If the story is that compelling put the idea on kickstarter. I say its not that good for raising money but then i mean serious money. It’s very good for maybe $10k to get going. It’s also a great place to attract the media. Get TV and radio coverage and social media support.

    You effectively just presell the book and a few other bits and bobs and you’re off.

    Sh!t that reminds me. Gotta catch up with Simon’s Cat.

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