Christopher Avino's temporary Georgia driver's license shows the self-proclaimed Pastafarian wearing a colander.
Photo: SPECIAL TO AJC
Photo: SPECIAL TO AJC

'Pastafarian' sends open letter to Georgia Driver Services

Following is the response that Chris Avino sent to the Georgia Department of Driver Services after they told him to retake his driver's license photo. 

An open letter to The State of Georgia's Department of Driver Services

Dear Department of Driver Services (DDS),  

I have received your letter informing me of your decision to not approve my driver's license photo.

In your letter you state that "a customer may be photographed while wearing a veil, scarf, or headdress" and that "a colander is not a veil, scarf, or headdress."  In Pastafarianism, the religion that I am claiming, colanders are worn as headdresses as a form of religious expression.  Just because a colander is not traditionally used as a headdress does not mean that it cannot serve that purpose.  In fact, it does serve that purpose for the tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of believers who claim Pastafarianism as their religion.  There are several cases all around the world, including the United States, where driver's licence photos with the traditional colander headdress have been approved (examples include Lindsay Miller of Massachusetts, Shawna Hammond of Oklahoma, and Asia Lemmon of Utah).  There are also photos of Pastafarians all over the internet expressing their religious beliefs by wearing their colander headdresses during protests and other events.  There is even a New York Councilman (Christopher Schaeffer) who was sworn into office wearing his religious headdress.  

You state in your letter that "DDS takes its responsibility and authority to issue licenses seriously" and that DDS "does not deem it appropriate to allow customers to be issued licenses that portray satirical or offensive points of view".  I appreciate that DDS takes its job seriously.  I want to make it clear that the colander is worn as an expression of religious beliefs, and nothing else.  It is not intended to mock or portray satire.  Although Pastafarianism's ideas seem to parallel the ideas of other religions, I assure you that I and other believers of The Flying Spaghetti Monster take the ideas of Pastafarianism seriously and I intend to show you that in this letter.

Let me first start with a quote from the Venganza.org website (home of Pastafarianism):

"Some claim that the church is purely a thought experiment or satire, illustrating that Intelligent Design is not science, just a pseudoscience manufactured by Christians to push Creationism into public schools. These people are mistaken — The Church of FSM is legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humor or satire is purely coincidental."

You are correct that Pastafarianism began as a criticism of a local mandate to teach Creationism in schools in 2005.  However, you are wrong to describe the letter as satirical.  I assume that you are familiar with the letter.  The letter is an expression of concern from the writer, Bobby Henderson, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.  He reminds the reader of the letter that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design.  He goes on to state that he and many others around the world (including myself) are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.  There is nothing in the letter that the author claims is satirical.  Yes, some may feel that the letter is satirical.  It is not.  The information presented in the letter represents our beliefs.

You may find our beliefs to be strange, but as strange as you may feel they are, they are still our beliefs.  Some may find it strange that Christians believe that Jonah spent "3 days in a whale's belly" according to some texts.  Some may find it strange that Muslims believe that Muhammad was carried to the seven heavens on the back of a winged horse.  Some may find it strange that Scientologists believe that Xenu, the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy brought billions of people to earth in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs.  Maybe you, the reader of this letter, do not personally believe that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, but do you question the validity of Islam as a religion?  Our religion is newer...so is Mormonism.  Do you question Mormonism's validity?  Our religion may only have tens of thousands of followers.  At the beginning, all religions have a small number of followers, but Pastafarianism is growing, and is still a religion. 

Furthermore, I do not understand how DDS has the right to decide whether my religion is valid.  My religion is my religion.  I've chosen to believe in Pastafarianism.  In Pastafarianism, a colander is worn on the head as a form of religious expression.  What right does DDS have to tell me that my religion is not a real religion.  What right do they have to tell me that my religion is nothing but satire created to mock the religions of others?  DDS has no right to make such statements about me or my beliefs.  Can you imagine if the same letter was sent to a Muslim because a Christian didn't recognize their beliefs or vice-versa?  It is offensive.

My religion, Pastafarianism, is viewed as valid by tens of thousands of followers all over the world.  There are numerous sources online that show our religious headdress, the colander, being worn as a symbol of our religious beliefs, including a New York Councilman.  Our religion exists.  It is legitimate.  It's claims are no less valid than the claims of other recognized religions.  I am in no way breaking the law or breaking any rules by wearing my religion's headdress, a colander, during my driver's license photo.  But DDS is.  DDS is infringing on my 1st amendment right to express my religious beliefs freely within the laws of the United States of America, within the laws of the state of Georgia, and within the rules of the DDS.

I expect you to reconsider your decision to not approve my State of Georgia driver's license photo.  

Sincerely Yours,

Chris Avino

» ONLINE EXTRA: Read the original DDS letter to Chris Avino here (.PDF)

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