Today, January 4, is National Spaghetti Day. And no one appreciates pasta more than the self-proclaimed “Pastafarians,” members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). According to their website, they believe, among others things, that “[p]irates were the original Pastafarians”, that “the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world much as it exists today, but for reasons unknown made it appear that the universe is billions of years old (instead of thousands)”, and that their scripture need not be believed literally. The website also states, “[t]he Church of FSM is legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humor or satire is purely coincidental”. However, not every country sees it that way and Pastafarians have struggled to gain recognition in Europe.
In Germany, Pastafarians wanted to display signs with information for their weekly “noodle mass” next to the signs of the Catholics, Protestants, and other denominations. In Austria, they sought recognition as a religious confessional community with legal personality. In the Netherlands, a Pastafarian fought for the right to wear a colander on her head in her passport and driver’s license photo. All these applications were denied.
In Germany, the Church of the FSM sought to display signs with information for their weekly “noodle mass” next to the signs of other churches. In October 2018, the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG) refused to hear the applicants’ complaint against the lower courts’ decisions. The order of the Federal Constitutional Court did not include a reasoning and simply stated that the complainants did not substantiate that they foster a philosophical view of the universe (Weltanschauung) which gives them an identical legal status to religions societies. The court of appeals, the Higher Regional Court of Brandenburg (Brandenburgisches Oberlandesgericht), had held that the Church of the FSM does not fulfill the criteria to be recognized as a religious society or ideological association. According to the court, satire in itself is not enough, in particular because the bylaws of the Church of the FSM state that the “flying spaghetti monster” is a religious satire and the Court cannot regard it as belief in a deity. The Court added that the Church of the FSM could also not be recognized as an ideological association. Ideological associations focus on explanations for the existence of mankind or the universe, whereas the Church of the FSM focuses on the satirical analysis of established religions, views, and actions. Finally, the court of appeals added that there are no common dogmas and that Pastafarians change their views as necessary.
On August 15, 2018, the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State), the country’s highest general administrative court, held that Pastafarianism is not a religion and the applicant may therefore not wear a colander on her head for her passport and driver’s license picture. The Dutch Passport Implementation Regulations 2001 (Paspoortuitvoeringsregeling Nederland 2001) provide that people may generally not cover their head on an official passport or driver’s license picture. However, if is required by their religion or philosophical movement, an exception can be made. (Paspoortuitvoeringsregeling Nederland 2001, art. 28, para. 3). The Council of State relied on the established case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to decide whether to regard Pastafarianism as a religion. The ECtHR has stated that views of a movement must “attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” before they can enjoy the protection of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Council of State held that even though it is important to express satirical criticism of established religions and their rites, that criticism itself is not a religion. As examples, it cited the “rather-nots” as a joking variant of the Ten Commandments from the Jewish-Christian tradition, “The Old Pastament”, “The New Pastament”, and the Pastafarian Prayer, which the Church of the FSM derived from the “Lord’s Prayer”. In particular, it held that “seriousness” and “cohesion” were missing. For example, the Council of State sees the lack of coherence in a letter by Bobby Henderson—the founder of the Church of the FSM—in which he sets out the relationship between the reduction in the number of pirates since the year 1800 and the warming of the earth.
In March 2018, the Austrian Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht, BVwG) ruled that the Church of the FSM does not qualify as a “religious confessional community”. In April 2014, the Church of the FSM had submitted an application under the Austrian Federal Act on the Legal Personality of Religious Confessional Communities (Act) (Bundesgesetz über die Rechtspersönlichkeit von religiösen Bekenntnisgemeinschaften) to acquire legal personality. The Act provides that “religious confessional communities” are associations of members of a religion, which are not recognized by law. (Act, § 1.) They may acquire legal personality by submitting an application to the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Art, and Culture (now called Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research). (Id. § 2, para. 1.) The application must contain the bylaws and proof that the religious confessional community has at least 300 members in Austria. (Id. § 3.) The law states that the Ministry must deny the application when the bylaws of the association do not fulfill the criteria set out in the law. (Id. § 5, para. 1, no. 2.) Among other things, the bylaws must contain:
- name of the religious confessional community which must be unique and distinctive;
- description of the religious creed;
- description of the rights and obligations of its members; and
- provisions on becoming a member and leaving the community. (Id . § 4.)
The Federal Ministry denied the application. The objection that the Church of the FSM filed against the decision of the Federal Ministry remained unsuccessful. A complaint against the administrative decisions was submitted to the Federal Administrate Court, which also denied the request. The Federal Administrative Court stated that an application to acquire legal personality must be submitted by an authorized representative of a religious confessional community. As a preliminary step, the court therefore had to determine whether the Church of the FSM was a “religious confessional community”. It explained that the term is a subcategory of “religious communities” which are understood as “organized communities of members of a religion”. This definition requires a “historically evolved system of beliefs that interprets people and the world in their relation to transcendence and provides specific rites, symbols, and guidance for peoples’ actions, and which has at least 300 members in Austria”. The Court held that the Church of the FSM fulfills these criteria to some extent, but that there are no specific rites, and it is missing an organized community in Austria. According to the Court, eating pasta together and the “transcending” of beer is not different from normal eating and drinking due to the lack of specific religious reference points. In addition, there are no regular Church of FSM services in Austria. The Court held that it was therefore irrelevant whether individual members or a majority of the members believe in a “flying spaghetti monster”.
According to news reports, Pastafarians are planning on taking their cases to the ECtHR. It will be interesting to see whether the ECtHR will accept the cases and how it will decide. We will keep you updated. Until then, enjoy a dish of delicious pasta!