The Strain of Driving

In recent years, many areas have debated whether citizens and visitors should have the right to wear religious head garments on government-issued photo identification cards such as drivers’ licenses. Putting aside the politics and discriminatory impact of that particular debate — that’s a conversation for another time (and another email newsletter) — let’s grant the following: If the head covering prevents the ID from actually allowing us to identify the person depicted, that’s not a very useful tool.

So for that reason, many government bodies bar any sorts of head coverings — baseball caps to burqas — in such situations. But others, such as the state of Massachusetts, want to find a middle ground. To do so, Massachusetts has a set of exceptions: it allows such head coverings “for medical or religious reasons” (per this pdf). Let’s also grant that such exceptions make sense. How do we decide which “medical or religious reasons” are real?

Well, that’s hard, especially when dealing with the “religious” part. Some, like Massachusetts, take a very hands-off approach; a Massachusetts Department of Transportation official told the Boston Globe that the agency “[does] not get into the sincerity or the veracity of religious beliefs.”

Which is how this happened:


The person pictured is Lindsay M. Miller, as the image states. That’s her (temporary) Massachusetts driver’s license, via the above-linked Boston Globe article. She is wearing a colander on her head.

While typically used to drain water from pasta or other things which cook in such baths, Ms. Miller’s use is, well, different. She’s pretty clearly wearing the colander as a hat. And, as far as the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) was concerned, that’s because the headdress was religious in nature. Yes, originally, Ms. Miller’s request was denied, laughed off as a joke. But then, she explained that she is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (the diety-ish thing is below) and a follower of Pastafarianism.


The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster came to the public eye in 2005 when a Kansas resident penned a letter to a local school board in protest of a curriculum which eschewed teaching evolution in favor of “intelligent design.” That letter, available here, spread virally, leading many agnostics and atheists to sign up for Church membership.

That said, the Church isn’t the traditional religious group. Pastafarians don’t truly believe that the creature depicted above is divine or, for that matter, even real. Rather, as the New York Daily News states, they “use parody to make a point about religion.” The Church’s official website explains further: they “believe religion – say Christianity, Islam, Pastafarianiasm – does not require literal belief in order to provide spiritual enlightenment.” Rather, “much of the transcendent experience of religion can be attributed to the community.” Which, all told, is good enough for Massachusetts.


Bonus fact: Ms. Miller isn’t the only prominent colander-wearing Pastafarian. In 2014, a man named Christopher Schaeffer won election to the town council of Pomfret, New York (population about 15,000). When he was sworn in that summer, he, too, insisted upon the official Church headgear. Here’s a photo.

From the Archives: Prawo Jazdy: Ireland’s Worst Driver: The man (and woman) with lots of traffic citations.

Related: A colander. Or a hat, if you so desire.