Colanders and Pastafarians again: Alm and Sager

In De Wilde v The Netherlands [2021] ECHR No 9476/19, which we discussed here, Ms De Wilde, a Pastafarian, had applied for a new driving licence and a new identity card with a picture of her wearing a colander on her head. When the domestic authorities refused her request, she took the matter to Strasbourg – where the ECtHR was equally unsympathetic, concluding that Pastafarianism was not a “religion” or “belief” within the meaning of Article 9, that Article 9 could not apply to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or its followers, and that the complaint was incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention.

The Court has recently returned to the matter in two judgments: Alm v Austria [2022] ECHR Application no. 20921/21 and Sager and Others v Austria [2022] ECHR Application no. 61827/19.

In Alm, the Fourth Section noted that the general principles relevant to the issue had been summarised in De Wilde, where the Court had held that, though the concept of “religion or belief” in the sense of being protected by Article 9 had to be interpreted broadly, that did not mean that all opinions or convictions were to be regarded as such, and that Pastafarianism was not to be regarded as a “religion or belief” within the meaning of Article 9 [9]. As regards the present case, the Court saw no reason to hold otherwise [10], and the complaint under Article 9 was incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention within the meaning of Article 35(3).

The Court took a similar line in Sager in relation to the complaint under Article 9. As to the additional complaints under Article 11, alone and in conjunction with Articles 9 and 14, the Court rejected the applicants’ claim to have been prevented from freely associating as a religious community and to have been discriminated against as a non-confessional ideology (Weltanschauung) because the benefits of that status were only granted to “religious” communities. The Court reiterated that there was no right under Article 11 for associations to have a specific legal status – and the applicants had, in fact, successfully established an association under Austrian law in 2015 [14].

It was true that, where a state party had created a status for religious communities entailing specific privileges, it had to ensure that religious groups had a fair opportunity to apply for that status and that the criteria were applied in a non-discriminatory manner. However, because Pastafarianism did not qualify as a “religion” within the meaning of the Court’s case‑law, the right to the status of a religious community could not be derived from Article 11 of the Convention. It followed that the complaint was manifestly ill‑founded and the Court rejected it in accordance with Article 35(3)(a) and 35(4) of the Convention [14]. The complaint was manifestly ill-founded [15].


Further reading:

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Colanders and Pastafarians again: Alm and Sager" in Law & Religion UK, 29 December 2022,

6 thoughts on “Colanders and Pastafarians again: Alm and Sager

  1. It seems to me unjust that these frivolous cases got as far as they did at the ECtHR, when the majority of applications (including all I have ever made) are ruled “inadmissible” on the papers by a single judge sitting alone.

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  4. Dear Frank,

    Thank you for your references to the Freethinker. Pastafarianism may or may not be ‘frivolous’ in itself, as some would have it. But the cases of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster arguably indicate that the law, both in some European countries and at ECtHR level, is structurally biased in favour of historically established religions, or more recent ones that are perceived to be analogous to them.

    At the same time, the courts have not really given a satisfactory answer as to why some practices (such as wearing certain types of headgear) or some organisations, just because they are ‘religious’, should be granted special treatment, while others are not.

    Or why a panel of secular jurists should be qualified to decide whether a particular set of beliefs about matters potentially reaching beyond the realm of verifiability and evidence has or has not obtained ‘a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’.

    The fact that a religion contains beliefs that by their nature are beyond reason – if not actively harmful to followers or wider society – is apparently in itself a qualification for special treatment; but a parody/anti-belief-system that (on one interpretation) laughs at all religions – of course not.

    Many ‘Pastafarians’, such as Niko Alm, are (also) atheists. As Cliteur and de Wilde (reference below) put it, ‘If an atheist or agnostic believes he needs to adopt a religion to be able to practise, teach and manifest his beliefs, he should not be restrained from exercising his rights.’

    One of the curious features of Pastafarianism is that if you ask any of its adherents whether they would insist at all costs on being able to wear eccentric headgear in their ID photos, or on obtaining charitable status, tax breaks and so forth for their organisations, the answer would be ‘No – as long as we are treated no worse than [established] religions.’

    Would their opponents be so open to compromise? Or should ‘inability to compromise’ be added to the Court’s list of ingredients in a ‘real’ religion?

    In full, here are the articles we’ve published about Pastafarianism and its challenge to the legal conception of religion or the special treatment of religion in the law:

    1. ‘Judging the Flying Spaghetti Monster’, 8/7/22, by Derk Venema (legal academic, Netherlands) and Niko Alm (journalist and former MP, Austria)

    2. ‘The secular religion of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’, 27/7/22, by Paul Cliteur (legal academic) and Mienke de Wilde (Pastafarian and law PhD student)

    3. ‘Religious Privilege 2 : 0 Pastafarians’, 16/12/22, brief update by Niko Alm:

    Further discussion of the challenge which Pastafarianism arguably poses to the close relationship between religion and the state in my article for New Humanist, 21/10/22:

    Emma Park
    Editor, The Freethinker

    • @Emma Park

      That was very well put. Almost thou persuadest me. I really had to think hard how to refute your position, before I felt able to decide not to adopt it myself

      The rationale behind not asking certain people to be photographed for their passports without their habitual headgear is that they are likely to wear the headgear all the time they are out of their homes, including when going through passport control at ports. I’ve been asked to remove a cap at passport control myself, to help an official compare my appearance with my bare-headed photograph in my passport.

      Unless a Pastafarian is going to wear a colander all the time, there is no hardship in not wearing one’s colander whilst a passport photograph is taken, and no advantage in wearing it. It’s no advantage, but rather a hardship, to wear a colander in one’s passport photograph, for otherwise, one might have trouble at passport control from an official who asked one to put on one’s colander whilst one’s passport was checked, when one had left it at home, because the colander isn’t really an all-the-time headwear for Pastafarians, like (say) a turban is in the case of a Sikh.

      Seen in this way, allowing the wearing of headgear for a passport photograph isn’t a privilege for those who wear headgear whenever they go out, for whatever reason. It is an accommodation made in order to avoid disadvantaging such people, among whom Pastafarians are not in fact included, even if they pretend they are, for the purposes of a joke acted out in a courtroom in a frivolous cause of action.

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