An imprisoned "Pastafarian" has sued Nebraska prison officials, saying staff violated his civil rights by denying him the chance to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Stephen Cavanaugh, 23, filed the federal civil rights lawsuit against the Department of Correctional Services and Nebraska State Penitentiary officials, saying penitentiary staff repeatedly discriminated against him by not allowing him the right to meet for worship services and classes, or to wear religious clothing and pendants.
"The only reason (my) requests were denied is that (my) religion does not conform to the 'traditional' Abrahamic belief structure," said Cavanaugh, who claims he isn't the only Pastafarian at the prison.
Adherents believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world and pirates were its initial followers, according to the church's website. They are known to wear colanders on their heads.
An Oregon man who brought the so-called religion to prominence in 2005 said more than 10 million people "have been touched by His Noodly Appendage." Members claim Pastafarianism isn't anti-religion but rather the rejection of dogma.
The Nebraska prison system recognizes 20 different religions, including Rastafarianism and Satanism.
Officials claim the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a satirical movement, which Cavanaugh calls insulting.
"The founder of Pastafarianism stated that it was a parody of religion," a prison official wrote in denying one of Cavanaugh's requests. "The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services will not dedicate administrative and facility resources to support a parody."
Department spokesman James Foster declined comment, citing the pending litigation.
Inmates seeking accommodations for their faith must submit a written request to the prison's religious coordinator, who reviews information about the religion and sends the request to the religious study committee.
That committee, comprised of other religious coordinators, department staff and an attorney, make a recommendation to the department's deputy directors for institutions and programs and community services, who have the final say. The inmate can appeal the decision.
The Flying Spaghetti Monster faith first caught headlines when the Oregon State University graduate wrote an open letter protesting the Kansas Board of Education's decision to allow intelligent design to be taught in public schools as an alternative to evolution.
He demanded equal time for his faith, asking that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism be taught in school as well.
Just last week, an Oklahoma woman was allowed to wear a colander on her head in her driver's license picture, claiming it was religious headgear for her faith.
Cavanaugh, who is from Grand Island, said he had openly declared his belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster before he went to prison and that he has "prominent tattoos proclaiming his faith." He is serving four to eight years for attempted first-degree assault and weapons convictions out of Hall County for chasing a married couple with a hatchet in 2012.
In the lawsuit, Cavanaugh says he wants the same religious privileges as other groups.
He isn't asking the state to pay for his regalia, he wrote in the lawsuit, only that he be able to buy it himself.
For the alleged discrimination, he is seeking $5 million in damages for pain and suffering, plus punitive damages.
Cavanaugh said he's been forced to choose between angering his god by not being able to preach and demonstrate his faith, and angering his god by doing so in a disrespectful manner.
"This has caused (me) no end of stress and spiritual pain."