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."