US Army Denies Flying Spaghetti Monster Beard

It was bound to happen: The Headquarters of the US Army has denied a young Soldier’s request for a religious accommodation to wear a beard.

US Army SPC John Hoskins claimed to be a “Pastafarian,” whose “deity,” if you will, is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

In January, LtGen Thomas Seamands, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for personnel, denied the request [emphasis added]:

1. I have considered your request for a religious accommodation to permit you to grow a beard in observance of your Pastafarian beliefs, along with the recommendations of your chain of command. I deny your request for an exception to Army personal appearance and grooming standards. A copy of this disapproval memorandum will be placed in your Army Military Human Resource Record (AMHRR).

2. Your request for an accommodation is denied based on a lack of a sincerely held religious belief.

3. This decision is final with no recourse for appeal.

Will Michael “Mikey” Weinstein or the ACLU rush to this Soldier’s aid to defend his “religious” freedom? At this point, it’s hard to say. Despite the fact the “FSM,” as he’s sometimes known, is long-known to be a mockery of religion, the military has, in the past, allowed it in certain circumstances. For example, the US Air Force let SSgt Dan Rawlings erect a Flying Spaghetti Monster “Christmas Card,” in a direct affront to the religious displays.  (At the time, Travis AFB indicated it was unaware of the mocking origins of the FSM.  Even David Gee, writing on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist on this incident, noted the FSM was a “satirical response to Creationism.”)

And while the recent increase in support of religious liberty within the military has been both notable and admirable, it did open the door to those who would try to receive the same “benefits” of religious belief without being religious.

The short version is if a person of faith can ask for a religious holy day off, or for a food accommodation, or for an exception to a grooming standard, why can’t a person who isn’t religious ask for those same things?

They can ask, of course, but they should not be granted a “religious accommodation,” nor, generally, any “accommodation” at all, since to do so would demean the very purpose of religious accommodation.

Somewhat ironically, the US military now has to protect the sanctity and virtue of religious belief. Whether atheists and those similar to them like it or not, religious exercise is “something,” and that something is specifically protected by the US Constitution.

If you don’t have that something, you don’t warrant its “benefits.”

To bend some atheists quips, if the military is providing haircuts but you’re bald, you don’t get to demand a bare-scalp-barber. If the military is providing sports coaches but you’re not playing sports, you don’t get to demand a non-sports coach.

If the military is providing religious leaders in the form of chaplains, you don’t get to demand a non-religious chaplain.

And if the military allows exceptions to its policies to accommodate certain religious beliefs, you don’t get to demand exceptions under those rules for your non-religious beliefs.

A few commenters noted SPC Hoskins was lucky he came out unscathed (assuming he did), as his request rode a fine line of mocking the system and wasting the Army’s time. The letter published by the Army Times appears to have come out of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, meaning Hoskins may not have released it on his own. He may now have a notoriety he didn’t set out to get — though he was unfazed in his comments to the Army Times:

“The Department of Defense currently recognizes over 185 different sects, branches, and denominations of Christianity,” he said. “I’m asking that they acknowledge one branch of deism…

The name that I — and others like me — have chosen to call the great maybe in the sky is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He gives me courage when I’m scared, strength when I’m weak, and just makes my life a little bit more bearable. What else could you ask for from a religion?”

That sounds almost defiant, as if Hoskins was trying to mock the system.

Maybe we haven’t heard the last from him after all.