A member of the “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” also known as a Pastafarian, was sworn into his councilman position with a colander on his head earlier this month. In a recent Talking Points Memo article, the fact that there is a picture of Christopher Schaeffer being sworn into office in New York with a colander on his head actually was noteworthy. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was initially created to make fun of organized religions, has since taken on a larger role. As Schaeffer commented, his wearing the colander is a “statement about religious freedom.” The colander, or pasta strainer, is a believed to be an important symbol of Pastafarianism as it is associated with the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). As a result many
have argued that the colander is religious headwear. Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time the Pastafarian colander has been an issue in relation to photos and employment. There have been a number of cities and countries that have denied individuals requests to have their government or company identification pictures with a colander on their head. The officials generally denied the requests because either Pastafarianism or the colander as “religious headwear” was not seen as legitimate.
Pastafarians frequently argue that denial of their right to wear the colander is religious discrimination. Their argument has never made it beyond the local courts and commissions in the United States, though it has reached the Supreme Court in other countries. Even so, more Pastafarians are seeking and getting drivers licenses, state identification cards, and other official photographs with colanders on their heads. The next question that is likely to arise is whether Pastafarians can demand to have a colander on their heads in their company identification cards or while working.
The First Amendment does not apply to the actions of private businesses, but employment laws still prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion. The
laws prohibiting religious discrimination look to see if the person claiming a religious belief strongly holds the belief, that the belief or “religion” addresses meaning of life type questions, and generally has other features that are commonly associated with the long established religions. If these rather vague standards are met then employers must make reasonable accommodations for religious practices and beliefs, including religious headwear.
However even if Pastafarianism is recognized and is a protected religion under employment discrimination laws, employers may still be able to deny accommodations for colanders or pasta strainers in the workplace. Employers can reasonably deny wearing a colander for safety and other financially legitimate reasons. For instance, a metal colander could be a significant safety concern in many situations like power line repair or in manufacturing plants or it could be prohibitively costly to modify gear to accommodate a colander. The future of the Pastafarian colander in the workplace is only just beginning.
If you feel you have experienced religious discrimination at work, contacting an experienced employment law attorney can help.