An Austrian atheist has won the right to be shown on his driving-licence photo wearing a pasta strainer as "religious headgear". Niko Alm first applied for the licence three years ago after reading that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for confessional reasons.
Mr Alm said the sieve was a requirement of his religion, pastafarianism. Later a police spokesman explained that the licence was issued because Mr Alm's face was fully visible in the photo.
"The photo was not approved on religious grounds. The only criterion for photos in driving licence applications is that the whole face must be visible," said Manfred Reinthaler, a police spokesman in Vienna. He was speaking on Wednesday, after Austrian media had first reported Mr Alm's reason for wearing the pasta strainer.
After receiving his application the Austrian authorities had required him to obtain a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive. According to Mr Reinthaler, "the licence has been ready since October 2009 - it was not collected, that's all there is to it". The idea came into Mr Alm's noodle three years ago as a way of making a serious, if ironic, point. A self-confessed atheist, Mr Alm says he belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light-hearted, US-based faith whose members call themselves pastafarians.
A medical interview established the self-styled "pastafarian" was mentally fit to drive The group's website states that "the only dogma allowed in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the rejection of dogma". In response to pressure for American schools to teach the theory known as intelligent design, which some Christians favour as an alternative to natural selection, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster wrote to the Kansas School Board asking for the pastafarian version of intelligent design to be taught to schoolchildren.
Straining credulity In the same spirit, Mr Alm's pastafarian-style application for a driving licence was a response to the Austrian recognition of confessional headgear in official photographs. The licence took three years to come through and, according to Mr Alm, he was asked to submit to a medical interview to check on his mental fitness to drive but - straining credulity - his efforts have finally paid off.
It is the police who issue driving licences in Austria, and they have duly issued a laminated card showing Mr Alm in his unorthodox item of religious headgear.
When asked for his reaction to Mr Reinthaler's comments, Mr Alm told the broadcaster ORF: "I didn't know I was guilty of not collecting it. That doesn't alter the fact that it still took nearly a year [to be issued]". The next step, Mr Alm told the Austrian news agency APA, is to apply to the Austrian authorities for pastafarianism to become an officially recognised faith.