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NJ License Photos: No Smiling and No Wearing a Pasta Strainer on Your Head

An Egg Harbor man's choice of head gear brought South Brunswick Police to the Motor Vehicle Commission office.

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission banned smiles in driver's license photos last year, but apparently imposed no restriction on cooking utensils worn as religious head gear. At least, that's how Aaron Williams saw it.

At about noon on Feb. 2, South Brunswick Police responded to the MVC facility on Route 130 in Dayton on reports that a man renewing his driver's license refused to remove the pasta strainer he was wearing on his head for his license photo, according to a police report.

Williams, 25, of Egg Harbor Township, said the strainer is a religious head covering and he had a right to wear it for the photo. Williams said he practices Pastafarianism, which was created in 2005 in response to a hearing in the Kansas State Board of Education on evolution versus intelligent design. 

"What we deem as different or embarrassing is different from what another individual deems as different or embarrassing, in terms of religious practices," Williams told Patch on Tuesday.

Pastafarianism, or The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, became an Internet sensation after Bobby Henderson, an Oregon State University graduate, sent a satirical open letter to the Kansas school board as an argument against teaching intelligent design in school biology classes. The letter soon spawned a grass roots movement and a Facebook page aimed at "spreading the tasty goodness of His Noodliness throughout the world."

"We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe," Henderson wrote to the Kansas school board. "None of us, of course, were around to see it, but we have written accounts of it. We have several lengthy volumes explaining all details of His power."

According to the police report, an MVC employee told Williams that it's against policy for people to wear head coverings in license photos, unless it's for religious reasons. 

"As a Pastafarian, I believe the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster," Williams said. "The strainer is a showing of my devoutness to the religion."  

After arriving at the scene, a South Brunswick Police officer advised Williams that the pasta strainer was not approved by the MVC and he would have to apply to the state to wear it in his license photo. Williams, who the officer said never made any threats or statements other than proclaiming his right to wear the strainer in the photo, eventually had his picture taken without the head gear to complete his license renewal.

Williams said that being asked to remove the pasta strainer was in contrast to the MVC's policy on religious garb, which states that applicants who obtain photo driver's licenses are not required to remove religious or ethnic head coverings.

"Had it been a turban or a head scarf, or something from a mainstream religion, then it would've been fine," he said. "I guess since they hadn't heard of the religion, that's why they opposed it. But that's not really acceptable to me. They're not in a position to discriminate against religions that are mainstream, or not mainstream, just because they may not have heard about it."

In 2011, an Austrian Pastafarian successfully challenged for the right to wear a pasta strainer on his head for his driver's license photo based on religious freedom. Williams said he was disappointed at the stance taken by the MVC, but added that he doesn't plan on pursuing any legal action.

"The people there were very polite, but I'd like to have better training for their employees, so I may be looking into some way to educate their employees on their own policies," he said. "I feel like after I expressed my opinions and beliefs they were definitely more accepting. I was met with hostility at first and they were asking me what my problem was.

"I didn't have a problem, they had the problem. After I expressed myself, they realized I wasn't just some crazy person, but they still didn't let me wear the strainer for my picture."

Pastafarians have in the past challenged for public displays of their beliefs, including last year in Chester County, Pa., when the Evangelical Pastafarian Church unsuccessfully attempted to have a pasta-covered pine tree included with a Menorah and Nativity scene in a courthouse holiday display.

"By design, the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma," read a statement on the group's web site. "That is, there are no strict rules and regulations, there are no rote rituals and prayers and other nonsense. Every member has a say in what this church is and what it becomes."

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster also states that pirates were the original Pastafarians, and that "it was due to Christian misinformation that they have an image of outcast criminals today."

In his letter to the Kansas school board, Henderson said that "global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s."

Pastafarian beliefs also state that they are fond of beer, every Friday is a religious holiday, and that they "do not take ourselves too seriously." 

"Most people just laugh or think it's funny when I tell them about it," Williams said. "They understand it's satire. I don't have too many people who I interact with where the satire goes over their heads."

Kristina Goodwin February 20, 2013 at 02:40 PM
I believe I have found the perfect religion for me, but I am wondering, is there another way to express my affiliation beyond wearing a strainer? I don't look good in hats. :)
Gail Lane February 20, 2013 at 03:32 PM
"[Pastafarians] do not take ourselves too seriously" - R'amen.
raymond Weis February 20, 2013 at 03:42 PM
This group sounds like they could be the cast of Saturday night live. They are very satirical and sound like they don't take too much seriously. I just have to wonder does the spaghetti strainer have to be clean or must it have strained spaghetti befor you wear it?
Eyeballs February 20, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Why not put your noodle in a pasta strainer?
7 out February 20, 2013 at 06:44 PM
This should be as legal as any other religious head covering
SBVikes February 20, 2013 at 06:53 PM
A pasta strainer is not religious head gear!!! It's making a mockery of real religions with this nonsense!
AC February 20, 2013 at 08:05 PM
So, where was the hidden camera?
Tugwalla February 21, 2013 at 02:05 AM
The State is Anti-Al Dente!
Tugwalla February 21, 2013 at 03:54 AM
So is the SB Police and The State the judge and jury on what is or isnt a valid religion? The state and SB Cops over stepped their authority on this one.
lez briddon February 21, 2013 at 04:41 AM
its not simply satire, its a satirical religion. R'amen.
Stewart February 21, 2013 at 04:48 AM
This is very strange. I am an ordained Patafarian minister and we do not wear pasta strainer on our heads. We wear Pirate Hats (at least on formal occasions). Nevertheless, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism) gives a great deal of latitude in interpreting the Gospels. If this sub-denomination thinks pasta strainers are holier than Pirate Hats, the Gospel says that we are not to rely on dogma and condemn them. Dogma is forbidden to Pastafarians. As for the notion that this mocks inferior religions, that is entirely appropriate to a Pastafarian. The other religions have long earned their mocking.
David Kinghorn February 21, 2013 at 05:16 AM
Please define what it means to be a "real" religion. A certain number of followers? A certain number of years of being around? The thing is that if you want to give certain legal privileges to religions, which you shouldn't because it violates the first amendment and I think that's the point this guy was trying to make, but if you don't care about the first amendment, then you need to clearly define what a religion is. And if you do in an unbiased way, I'm pretty sure we can get enough people to make Pastafarianism fit that definition.
David Kinghorn February 21, 2013 at 05:18 AM
Plus isn't giving religions special privileged like violating the constitution or something you know?
David Kinghorn February 21, 2013 at 05:20 AM
Different sects of Pastafarianism have different rules, just like any religion. Fortunately, if you worship him slightly wrong, you will still go to the heaven with a beer volcano and stripper factory. You'll just look silly wearing the wrong hat.
Mike Hitchcock February 21, 2013 at 07:12 AM
Pirate garb is always appropriate, with or without hat.
Andrea February 21, 2013 at 07:41 AM
As an avid Pastafarian, long ago touched by his noodly appendage, I was always under the impression that the pirate hat was to be worn specifically when prosthelytizing and that the pasta strainer (or anything that has been used as a pasta strainer) was more every-day headgear, available in a variety of colours and textures from your finer kitchen gadget retailers.
Ryan Peter Ynwa Nel February 21, 2013 at 10:46 AM
My sect prefers pirate garb and the strainer for ceremonial purposes. When I get my license renewed, I'll let you know how the South African govt views it.
Cap'n Half Finger February 21, 2013 at 12:20 PM
Aye me matey! Boil th' parrrsta in th' colandarrr, an' ye 'at be Blessed by Glob! 'Rrr! Be takin' it out 'ere wearin' th' thing lest ye look loike a fool! Aye!
Scott Smith February 21, 2013 at 01:55 PM
"real religions", as you put it, deserve mockery. But, let's make sure I understand you right - beanies, burqas and chadris, good. pasta strainers, bad. Anything else that we should or shouldn't consider "religious head gear"? We all anxiously await your list.
Jeff February 21, 2013 at 02:23 PM
The pasta strainer is not required, it's simply an additional (and legal) sign of devotion.
SBVikes February 21, 2013 at 02:44 PM
Oh yes you're completely right Scott and David. Maybe you'd like to join the religion I started this morning after I discovered the universe was created by Mayor McCheese through his disciples Grimace and the Hamburglar. We're McCheesentologists! I should be able to wear a hamburger bun on my head. Hope you all still think this is funny and your spaghetti doesn't burn when you're rotting in hell. One nation, under McCheese, indivisible, with liberty and ketchup for all
David Kinghorn February 22, 2013 at 01:04 AM
@SBVikes That sounds just fine to me. The fact is, we either believe what we want to believe based on evidence or good wishes, or what an authority figure said. And whatever book of truth you believe in likely has no more truth than the Odyssey or any other myths. Now, if there was a god, he could have made the one true book indestructible or could have carved the ten commandments 100 feet tall in diamond. But even then, all that tell us is that a powerful force exists. It doesn't tell us that said powerful force is telling us the truth - it could be aliens creating a fiction for us for instance, or perhaps Satan posing as god. Or we could all be living in the Matrix. The point is that we have no reliable way of telling the difference. Just like you shouldn't build on a house of cards, you shouldn't make decisions based on things that you can't reliably prove. As such, you can speculate whatever you want, but that's all it is. And it's really more productive to focus on things that we know are true, such as human suffering and the ways we can help with it. Besides I have it on good notice that they serve beer in hell :P
David Kinghorn February 22, 2013 at 01:59 AM
@SBVikes But then I guess the real question is - why do you believe what you believe? Because it was written in a book or your parents told you so is not a valid answer. I believe what I believe - about the goodness and badness of humans and various economic and technological concepts because of evidence, occasionally anecdotal, but mostly statistical.
Stefford Prawn February 24, 2013 at 01:44 PM
And why not? "Real" religions make a mockery of common sense. Pastafarianist logic is more fun.
Laura Madsen February 24, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Did you see the response as endorsed by his holiness he Flying Spaghetti monster? http://www.venganza.org/2013/02/the-colander-in-his-admiration-aaron-williams-acknowledges-nj-licencing-laws/ And I want to know - is there a gluten free sect?
Laura Madsen February 24, 2013 at 11:56 PM
R'amen, Gail. R'amen. ;)
Riley cox ( pastafarian) February 27, 2013 at 05:55 PM
You are absolutely free to make one. Since no one knows what type of spaghetti He is made of, you have every right to think it is gluten free.
mr2 March 29, 2013 at 04:23 AM
Other religious headgear (like Hijab, Turban, etc) is making a mockery of Canadian born religions!!! This is not Canada, this is foreign countrys exported to Canada to make the almighty million!!!!!!! I AM NOT PREJUDICE in the least but I do not agree with ppl coming to our country and saying, "You are not being fare to us, let us practice our own religion and live by our own rules, in our own churches, run by our own ppl!!!!" THIS IN OUR COUNTRY!!!!! WHAT do u think they would let US do in their country!!!!????????????????

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