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"Pastafarianism and the issue of the holy headgear"

De zaak van het Vliegend Spaghettimonster
Theatrale rechtszitting 
Woensdag 23 november 2016 | 19.30 - 21.30 uur | LUX, Mariënburg 38-39, Nijmegen

Members of the court: Roel Schutgens, Elke Truijen & Theodora van Boven.
Members of the appellant: Mathé Coolen, Derk Venema & Frans Jespers.
Members of the appellee: Ghada Abo El Enin & Paul Bakker.

A Mock Trial

When I got inside the hall of the LUX theatre, I already noticed that there were quite a few colanders on the heads of people in the audience. The question at hand then suddenly seemed (counter intuitively) like a real and serious question. Should people who believe in The Flying Spaghetti Monster be taken seriously? Should this church have the same legal status as other religions? Can you really view a colander as holy headgear? This event answered such questions and more.

Roel Schutgens (Professor in jurisprudence at Radboud University) took on the role of the chief judge. He explained that the (theatrical) court case concerned Nijmegen's rejection of a photograph for a driving license on which the Pastafarian holy headgear was worn: the colander. Because this case was actually a case of principle Schutgens had the students Elke Truijen and Theodora van Boven with him as assistant judges.

On their right side sat the members of the appellant. Mathé Coolen (Actual archbishop of Pastafarianism in the Netherlands) was denied to wear his colander on an official photograph and he felt wronged. To assist him in this case he had Derk Venema with him as his lawyer (Venema is Assistant professor at the faculty of law at Radboud University) and Frans Jespers as his expert witness (Jespers is associate professor in comparative religion sciences at Radboud University).

On the other side of the stage sat the appellee, representing the municipality of Nijmegen. The mayor of Nijmegen was represented by the student Ghada Abo El Enin and she had Paul Bakker with her as expert witness (Bakker is professor in medieval philosophy at Radboud University).

In his introduction Schutgens explained that the law states that one needs to be bareheaded on a photograph for an official document. However, according to article 28.3 of the regulations of passport release, exceptions may be made when it can be shown that there are religious reasons for not going about bareheaded. Schutgens raised three questions. The first was whether Pastafarianism really is a religion. If this is indeed the case then we must ask whether it can shown that Pastafarianism offers religious reasons for not being bareheaded. And if this too could be affirmed, the question was whether Coolen was really a Pastafarian.

First issue: Is Pastafarianism a religion?

Jespers admitted that religion scientists do not agree on one single definition of religion. Even so, it was clear to him that Pastafarianism must indeed be seen as such. For Pastafarianism has a community, they revere a divine being (The Flying Spaghetti Monster), they have specific ethical values and they already have so many members that they have long passed the stage of being a sect. So whatever definition you maintain, Pastafarianism seems to count as a religion.

The acting mayor of Nijmegen disagreed. She argued that Pastafarianism started off as a parody and that it's still nothing more than a parody. The fact that it makes some good points does not suddenly make it a religion.

Then a good question came from the audience. The question was raised why Pastafarianism would stop being a religion merely for also being a parody. It would not, answered Venema, most if not all religions started off as some sort of parody once.

Second issue: Does Pastafarianism resist being bareheaded?

Now that it seemed to be settled that Pastafarianism should be seen as a religion, the next issue was whether it resists being bareheaded. The first to give an answer was Coolen, who admitted that it's a personal choice to wear a colander or not. However, he continued, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster states that the colander is worn as a way to praise the Divine Being. Furthermore, it is a well-known custom for Pastafarians to wear their colanders.

This is not enough of a reason though, argued Bakker. Because it cannot be shown that Pastafarianism resists being bareheaded. Moreover, some Pastafarians choose to wear the colander and others don't. Therefore it's a personal choice, not a religious obligation. And the exception article 28.3 offers is not applicable to personal choice.

Third issue: Is Coolen a real Pastafarian?

According to the Mayor of Nijmegen, Coolen had been seen walking into the town hall bareheaded. Therefore even if Pastafarians were required to wear the Colander at all times, Coolen didn't and therefore shouldn't become an exception to the rule.

No, answered Coolen, he is in fact a devout Pastafarian. It is just dangerous to wear the colander while riding the bike. So in such extreme cases he does not wear the colander. He admitted that he had a difficult week for not being able the colander at all times. He felt regret for not having worn it. He felt that he had to drain his spaghetti twice that week as atonement for his sin.

At last the verdict was upon us.

Having heard all the arguments in favor and against the request, the three judges retreated to settle on their verdict. During this short period of time the numbers of convinced people from the audience were counted. Surprisingly the raising of hands showed that the audience was divided 50-50.

When the judges came back they concluded that Pastafarianism must indeed be seen as a religion. To the second issue, the judges said that Pastafarianism does not resist being bareheaded. For as Coolen said himself, all Pastafarians are free to do whatever they please with regards to the colander. In regard of the third issue the judges did find Coolen a proper Pastafarian. However, Coolen was still denied to wear a colander on his official photograph because Pastafarianism does not demand wearing it.

It may be said that Pastafarianism has won on a different level though. For albeit the large amount of humor during the trial, Pastafarianism itself was taken very seriously by all attendees. And, admitted Schutgens, if the Holy Book would suddenly miraculously state that the colander must be worn, then the verdict might have been different.

By: Tom Meijer