Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Colander: A Piece of Cookware or Headwear?

Spaghetti is a commonly enjoyed dinner, but some people love it more than others. Although this would apply to Buddy the Elf, I am actually referencing a group of faith. The group of faith, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, came to public attention in 2005, and demonstrates an interesting aspect in the argument of the freedom of religion. One of the main issues where the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) has come to legal issues is in their desire to where colanders on their head in photos taken to be used on their driver’s licenses. However, the issue has less to deal with this specific desire, and more of what honoring this desire could do in other regards.

The simple backstory to the FSM’s wishes is based on the fact that they believe if any religious garments are allowed in some driver’s license photos, then they should be allowed in all driver’s license photos, regardless of religion. When first being challenged, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) only recognized the exceptions for the Christian, Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim communities in most states. As previously stated, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster found it unfair to allow exemptions to these communities while not allowing their members, known as pastafarians, to wear a colander on their head for their photo. Therefore, the main question posed is as follows, does one religion, however unconventional it may seem to outsiders, deserve to be treated differently than another?

In the wording of the First Amendment, it is made clear that there should be no establishment of religion, thus shifting the question to defining the meaning of “establishment”? Many would argue, and I would agree, that by allowing certain religions to be receive preferential treatment compared to other religions, you are in fact violating the terms of the First Amendment in advancing a select group. In this aspect of the issue, I would side with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as one can see where the law has not been equitable in its application of Constitutional Rights.

However, a key issue that needs to be addressed in this argument would be deciding where the line is to be drawn. As with many issues dealing with religion and the law, this debate is susceptible to the slippery slope argument due to how allowing religions to be excused from certain laws could lead to exemptions being made that are unnecessary or even dangerous. In order to discuss this aspect, one must understand why these rules of appearance are created for DMV photos. One effective way to see this would be to look back to when a major change occurred in some states a few years ago. Occurring after the issue of terrorists acquiring legal documents, such as licenses, when their face failed to be detected by facial recognition scanners. As a way to combat this issue, DMVs adjusted their policy to not allow smiling in driver’s license photos. When questioned on this policy, the answer given was that when the candidate smiled excessively, they were able to distort their face enough to pass through facial recognition without matching to the database. This clearly poses a risk to society as a whole as it puts key documents in potentially dangerous hands.

Therefore, when evaluating whether exceptions should be made to the rules governing license photos, you must consider whether the exemptions would pose a risk to society. This could become an issue if a faith emerged that held a strong belief in always smiling, something most would consider an innocent belief to most in a daily sense. In theory, based on the treatment of other faiths, the non-stop smile faith should be able to smile in their driver’s license photos. However, as previously outlined, the ability to smile in your driver’s license photo could jeopardize the safety of other American citizens. With this example, you can see how a group with a certain belief who may not seek to harm others would be curtailed because of possible outcomes, a possibly unfair situation.

However, to justify allowing certain religions exemptions from the law, you would need to be able to justify why some religions are not exempt. This is where the slippery-slope argument comes in. Is it fair to justify some exemptions for photos, such as wearing a colander on your head, but not others, something as simple as smiling. The slippery slope argument would say that if you allow the first set of actions, you would need to allow whatever comes after it that uses the same argument. Although some believe that it would be reasonable to draw the line at the point when it crosses the line of endangering the public, I believe that this would unnecessarily punish certain faiths that mean no harm. Given the example of the always smiling faith, you can understand where you would be faced with issues where innocent beliefs are being punished due to the fact that some may use it to their advantage to harm others. Simply stated, I believe that if you allow certain religions exemption from the DMV photo requirements, as it currently is with certain groups of faith, you must allow other groups, such as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s wish to wear colanders on their head. However, I think that the idea of exemptions from these guidelines in general needs to be revisited as they pose the possibility of harming society if they are continued to be allowed.


Liz S. said...

What makes a faith such as Islam legit, versus any other religion an individual decides to come up with such as FSM? Just as it is dangerous for a member of FSM to wear a colander in their license photo because it could be hard to recognize said person, it could be just as dangerous for a Muslim woman to wear a burqa in her license photo. There should be no difference in asking a FSM member to remove their colander and asking a Muslim woman to remove her burqa, yet people may be more inclined to tell a FSM member to remove their religious garb than a doing the same to a Muslim woman. Why is this? Because Islam is a more popular faith than FSM? Does this take away FSM's ability to practice as they wish? This is a tricky question in which I think it is important to better define what a religion is so that people may not invent a religion simply to be excused from certain laws. However, for the time being in compliance with the first amendment, FSM members should be allowed to wear colanders in license photos.

Samantha Woolford said...

I believe that people should not be allowed to wear anything (or do anything, such as smiling) that would alter their appearance and make them harder to identify. People aren't permitted to wear baseball hats or sunglasses for this reason, and I believe the same should be applied to any religion that requires members to wear something that would cause this problem. I understand that the First Amendment protects the right to free exercise, however, there could be a possible threat to national security if people entering/leaving/residing/visiting this country cannot be identified through facial recognition technology. I believe the state's interest of national security is more important than religious groups being allowed to wear whatever they want.

Jim R said...

After a little research into Pastafarianism, I was surprised to find that this particular faith was so widespread around the world, including being recognized as an official religion in the Netherlands as of February 1, 2016. Even though it can be labelled as a "parody religion", this label establishes a religious movement much like the songs of "Wierd Al" Yankovic are treated as both their own independent entity and as a parallel song of the original artist. Therefore, this designation allows for members of the Flying Spaghetti Monster's creed to be eligible for the 1st Amendment's and 14th Amendment's protections against federal and state governments defining what practices are acceptable.

A relatively accurate profile of a person can still be determined from a DMV photo even if the colander is over the head for members of the FSM movement. If this person were to wear the colander in a large frequency like a Muslim woman wearing a burqa or a Hindu person placing a bindi on their forehead, then it becomes important to capture that identifier for the American depicted in the license or visa. We could ask people to instead fill out a paper form for the database to gather missing information from the photo which would satisfy the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and the United States' priority to keep its citizens identified and safe.

"Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster." Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. 01 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. .

"Pastafarianism." Flying Spaghetti Monster Wiki. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. .

Kiriko Masek said...

I agree that this case presents a slippery slope scenario. I do believe that people should be allowed to display their religious symbols and affiliation in license photos. However, there should be a restriction to how far people can go when displaying their religious beliefs in their forms of identification. People should not be allowed to fully cover their faces or distort/contort their faces in ways that would make them unrecognizable. If people are allowed to hide their eyes or the majority of their facial features, they are defeating the very purpose of requiring a form of identification. Despite all of this, I suppose in terms of not hiding facial features, wearing a colander on ones head because of religious reasons is allowed because it only covers the top of their heads and not their face, therefore it does not create a breach in being able to identify the person in the photo.

Thomas M. said...

I agree with the argument that if other religious groups are allowed to wear clothing important for their beliefs in identification photos, then FSM should also be allowed to wear their religious headwear. I do not, however, think that religious groups should be allowed to wear garments that obstruct their face in identification photos. Not because of the security risk, though that could prove to be an issue, but because that would be a form of religious exemption to allow these groups to wear their head and facial garments in the photo. It would be persecution to not allow religious groups to wear their garments in situations where such clothing is either typically not worn or not allowed, but in the case of an identification photo their face has to be visible.