Austrian 'Pastafarian': License Photo Was A Win For Freedom From Religion

Originally published on July 15, 2011 2:08 pm

Nico Alm never actually thought he'd get the license in the mail. Three years earlier, amid a flurry of new European Union regulations, Alm decided he would take his driver's license picture with a pasta strainer on his head.

As we reported Wednesday, Alm was testing a caveat in those new regulations that said headgear could only be worn for religious reasons.

Alm argued that he belonged to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and his religion required him to wear the spaghetti strainer on his head. And three years later, it arrived at his home: His license sporting a very serious picture of Alm with a plastic pasta strainer sitting sideways on his head.

We talked to Alm on the phone from Austria. All of this, he said, happened when he "spotted a privilege that I didn't agree with."

The result is, of course, humorous and it's gotten worldwide attention and on our post, at least, started a series of hilarious pasta puns ("And people who discriminate against Pastafarians will be labelled antipasti?"). Perhaps it struck a chord because it pokes fun at government bureaucracy, perhaps because one man was able to pull a fast one on a set of regulations that overhauled European Union licenses, making them more like credit cards and much more serious, including a regulation that did not allow people to smile in their official pictures.

But, Alm notes, it also strikes at the tension between church and state:

"The Republic of Austria is still very closely attached, is trying to serve religion and churches without any apparent need," Alm said. "And that's just another thing I pointed out... that something is going wrong here that there is a part of the population that can exert certain special rights that people like me, that atheist people or non-believers cannot have."

Alm says he is an atheist. He was baptized Roman Catholic but he was never a believer. He runs an advertising firm and this stunt could be portrayed as a powerful victory in the fight for religious freedom.

In the United States, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union has used the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause to argue in different states that Muslim women should be allowed to wear a hijab in their license photos.

But Alm says his aim — as an advocate "for the clean separation of church and state" — was to win one for freedom from religion.

"There shouldn't be any special rights for anybody because of their religious belief or non-belief," he said.

He also said, his protest isn't aimed at religions. He said he is no way poking fun at people who take their religion seriously:

"I am ridiculing the authorities," he said. "If anybody is offended there is nothing I can do, but I am offended too, if logic and reason is offended."

Alm said his next step is to get the Austrian arm of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster officially recognized by the government. And if you're wondering, Alm does really likes pasta. His favorite is called pici, a kind of thick spaghetti, which he hasn't had outside of Italy.

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