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In a quirky bit of news coming out today, we learned that the Ministère des Transports du Québec apparently spent 16 000$ on a study of the “Pastafarian” religion after someone claimed this religion required her to be photographed in pirate attire on her driver’s licence.
For the uninitiated, “Pastafarianism” is the name given to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a joke religion that originated in the United States initially to protest the teaching of creationism in public schools. Pastafarianism is a parody religion; its doctrine holds that an invisible being called the Flying Spaghetti Monster (made of spaghetti tendrils with meatball eyes) created the universe while either very drunk or very hungover, and today guides humanity towards better living through His Noodly Appendages. They cite a hastily-drawn scribble of the Flying Spaghetti Monster over a mountain and a “midgit” as their holy text. Depending on who you ask, adherents are required to like 18th-century Caribbean pirates (his Noodlyness’ chosen people) or wear colanders for formal events.
The Ministère’s reaction may have been heavy-handed – 16 000$ isn’t chump change – but totally understandable. Pastafarians have been very active in getting their religion recognised by law in an effort to protest religious accomodation. Pastafarianism is now a legally-recognised religion in several countries, where they have performed state-recognised marriages and, indeed, been allowed to have official government-ID photographs taken with spaghetti strainers on their heads (so long as their faces were visible). Adherents to the religion have already begun demanding the right to wear their religious garb in other Canadian provinces. I can certainly imagine that MTQ officials were weary that the incident might spark yet another public row about religious accommodation, given that the question is far from settled in Québec.
However, Québec need not fear the Flying Spaghetti Monster and His Noodly Appendages within the state machine. While most other countries have taken an approach where the law tries to determine religious freedom objectively, by essentially looking at whether or not the beliefs meet certain Church-like criteria like having places of worship, established doctrine, and so on, the Canadian Supreme Court has taken on a subjective approach whereby a person claiming religious freedom must convince a judge that theirs is a sincere religious belief before any religious accommodation can be considered. The burden is on the claimant to prove this sincere belief, which means that simply saying “I believe this sincerely” usually isn’t enough; you have to walk to walk, and even then, that doesn’t mean a court will grant the accommodation if it finds society’s needs more pressing. It also means that joke religions – no matter how noodly – aren’t going to get you the right to look like a Pirates of the Caribbean extra on your drivers’ licence anytime soon.
There continue to be important debates about the place for religious diversity within our society, and that’s not something we should take lightly. However, Québec needs not fear the absurd results to which the Flying Spaghetti Monster has taken other parts of the world and should really stop spending so much money on such nonsense.
And to our Pastafarian brothers and sisters, may His Noodly Appendage protect you. R’Amen.
Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He has an engineering degree from Université Laval and is currently a law student at McGill University.
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