One of the basic arguments of Gnu Atheism is that religion is given undue respect. Indeed, this argument is aired out in the opening pages of The God Delusion; it’s necessary to establish this obvious fact before going any further with other issues. To do otherwise would be to handcuff one’s self to fighting on the the theist’s sheltered turf. It isn’t usually a fair match when one side needs to tiptoe around the facts for fear of being dismissed purely on the grounds of being mildly offensive.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of this undue respect all around us. TGD gives a number, and there are new ones literally every single day. I’ll stick to just one:
A devout member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had the cops called on him by employees at a Dayton, New Jersey, Motor Vehicle Commission facility after he demanded to be allowed to wear a pasta strainer on his head for his driver’s license photo.
25-year-old Aaron Williams, a practitioner of the mostly satirical anti-creationism “religion” of Pastafarianism, says he was told that motor vehicle policy prohibited the wearing of head coverings in license photos excepting those worn for religious reasons.
“I take it as seriously as anybody else when it comes to religious beliefs,” he later told NJ.com.
There really was no reason to call the police it seems, but that isn’t what’s important here. What’s important is that New Jersey allows individuals to wear headgear for religious (among a few other) reasons. Aaron Williams should have been allowed to have his photo taken with a strainer on his head. To say otherwise is tantamount to saying that the government is allowed to pick and choose what religious beliefs are protected under the First Amendment.
The first objection, I think, that many people will have (besides outrage at having the very idea of religion mocked – the horror!) is that Pastafarianism is not a religion, so there’s nothing to discuss here. That isn’t entirely true. While it isn’t a sincere religion, it does reflect a sincere religious position. That is, Pastafarianism specifically addresses the silliness of certain religious dogma, doctrine, and teaching. It isn’t necessarily related to atheism, but it does deserve the same protection atheism is given under the First Amendment. (Though atheism is also not a religion, the First Amendment provides for freedom for and, as a natural and necessary extension, from religion.)
Williams will be taking his request to state officials higher up the ladder, so it remains to be seen what happens, but I think it’s worth taking a look at the laws of other states. Let’s take a gander at Maine:
An individual may be photographed wearing a turban or the customary wear of a nun. Headgear is also allowed for medical reasons. No other exceptions are provided. “No one will be allowed to wear a hat or other headdress when their photo is taken, except for a Nun who may wear the headdress as part of their ‘habit,’ or a turban may be worn in conjunction with religious beliefs. A person undergoing chemotherapy and requests to wear a kerchief, hat, etc., is allowed to do so.”
This is one of the most absurd special rights granted to religious driver’s. Not only is it saying that special laws apply to people based upon their religious beliefs, but it’s going one step further and specifying two specific groups who don’t have to follow the same laws as the rest of us. So you got that, Jews? You listening, Mennonites? No hats for you.
I only pray to his Noodley Goodness that these laws may one day change.