A Chicago-area woman says she wants to fight for her right to wear a pasta strainer on her head in her driver's license photo, claiming the item is an expression of her religious beliefs.
Rachel Hoover, 21, says she belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and has actively practiced the religion for five years. Members call themselves Pastafarians.
The Arlington Heights woman had gone to the Illinois secretary of state's Schaumburg facility last week to renew her license and told an employee she wanted to take her photo with a colander on her head "to make a point that this is my religion."
Hoover's request was initially rejected, but she eventually persuaded employees to let her proceed with the photo while, she said, she was subjected to mockery and insults by both workers and bystanders. She called the experience "pretty awful."
Then this week, she received a letter from the secretary of state's office saying the photo was "incorrect" and that her license will be canceled unless she gets a new picture taken by July 29.
Agency spokesman Dave Druker said Hoover shouldn't have been allowed to wear the strainer on her head in the first place and "we are looking into why that was done."
Druker said the state does allow citizens to wear religious headdress in license photos. Muslim women, for example, may wear hijabs as long as their faces are visible.
He said the office would not make an exception for Pastafarians. He noted that Hoover was not wearing the pasta strainer when she entered the facility, putting it on specifically for the photo.
Hoover said later it was impractical to wear a strainer all the time, though she asserted that some practitioners do.
Druker said a similar incident happened several years ago, and that person was also mistakenly allowed to have the strainer picture taken, but then agreed to a re-shoot when told the license would otherwise be revoked. Self-proclaimed Pastafarians have tried to wear strainers in license pictures in other states, and some have been allowed, such as a woman in Massachusetts last year.
The Illinois agency is "just trying to use a little common sense. It almost looks like Pastafarians are a mockery of religion," Druker said.
The movement was created by Bobby Henderson — now considered its "prophet" — in response to a 2005 proposal in Kansas that schools teach the theory of intelligent design along with evolution. Henderson wrote an open letter saying that if intelligent design was going to be taught, so too should the beliefs of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
It's largely seen as a parody, yet Hoover purports to take it seriously, explaining the colander is a way of remembering "the supreme being above me." She said her experience at the secretary of state facility prompted her to pay $25 for a certificate proclaiming her to be an ordained Pastafarian minister. She said the title does not come with any specific duties.
"Some people say a Flying Spaghetti Monster sounds silly. But to me, because I didn't grow up with that, the idea of Jesus sounded silly to me," Hoover said.
Hoover said she intends to fight for the right to wear the strainer in her license picture but acknowledged that more practical matters may intervene.
"I'm 21 years old. I have car issues. I'm broke. I can't really afford an attorney at this point," she said. "But that does not mean it's the end of my battle at all."