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Inmate loses lawsuit to worship Flying Spaghetti Monster
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Inmate loses lawsuit to worship Flying Spaghetti Monster

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A Nebraska State Penitentiary inmate who said he is a Pastafarian who believes in the divine Flying Spaghetti Monster has lost his federal lawsuit against prison officials who he said failed to accommodate his religious requests.

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard dismissed Stephen Cavanaugh's lawsuit Tuesday, saying "FSMism" is not a religion within the meaning of federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence.

"It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education," he wrote.

Gerrard said those are important issues and FSMism contains a serious argument, "but that does not mean that the trappings of the satire used to make that argument are entitled to protection as a 'religion.'"

Nor had Cavanaugh, 24, sufficiently alleged how he had been prevented from exercising his religion, Gerrard found.

In 2014, Cavanaugh filed the federal civil rights lawsuit against the Department of Correctional Services and penitentiary officials, seeking a court order mandating that FSMism receive the same rights and privileges afforded to other religions in the prisons.

He also sought $5 million for his "deep emotional, psychological and spiritual pain" for not being allowed to practice his religion and for staff mocking and insulting his faith.

Cavanaugh said prison staff had repeatedly discriminated against him by not allowing him the right to meet for worship services and classes, to wear religious clothing and pendants and to receive communion.

In a postscript in his order, Gerrard said Cavanaugh did not explain what he meant, but it is clear from the FSM Gospel that "religious clothing" means a pirate costume and "communion" is a large portion of spaghetti and meatballs.

FSMism began with an Oregon man's 2006 letter to the Kansas State Board of Education when it was considering intelligent design. Bobby Henderson contended a Flying Spaghetti Monster just as easily could be the master intellect behind intelligent design as any Judeo-Christian deity, and there was just as much scientific evidence for it.

Gerrard said Tuesday that prison officials considered Cavanaugh's request in good faith "and concluded, reasonably, that FSMism was satirical and required no accommodation."

"This case is difficult because FSMism, as a parody, is designed to look very much like a religion," he said.

Gerrard said the court had been careful to avoid questioning Cavanaugh's beliefs, but noted that the question is not one of theology. Rather, he said, "it is a matter of basic reading comprehension."

He said the FSM Gospel is plainly satire, meant to entertain and make a pointed political statement. To read it literally would be to misrepresent it and present it as the sort of dogma it was meant to rebut, he said.

And he dismissed Cavanaugh's lawsuit.

Cavanaugh is serving four to eight years out of Hall County on assault and weapons charges and has been eligible for parole since July 2014, two months before he filed the lawsuit. He is projected to be released this July.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or

On Twitter @LJSpilger.


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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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