I saw an article about a court ruling in the United States surrounding the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was one of those things that I expected to be outraged by... sometimes you just want a reason to rant at the world. The essence of it is that there is a convicted criminal who wants special treatment on the basis of his religion, which is pastafarian of course. He claims to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the precepts of the church that worships it.
A judge denied him that right though, and although I was primed to be bitter about it I actually find the judge's reasoning pretty defensible. Religious exceptions are designed to be about sincerely held beliefs and followers of the FSM don't actually think they need to put colanders on their heads. They just do it as satire, to push back against mainstream religions.
I love that satire! I think the FSM is amazing and love the mirror it holds up to a lot of ridiculous religious practices, not to mention religious assertions of 'fact'.
But it is true that religious exemption laws are actually there to allow people with these convictions and cultural practices to be able to pursue them without state judgement. They aren't there as a vehicle for satire or rebellion against mainstream religion. In that sense the judge is totally correct; the purpose of the laws definitely is not to support things like pastafarianism.
On the other hand religious freedom laws are often totally ridiculous because they specify religious grounds for exemptions instead of just making it about sincerely held beliefs. I think it is wrong (and definitely a violation of the principle of separation of church and state) that people are able to claim exemptions on religious principles when other principles will not be accepted in the same way.
This is one of those situations where I hate the way things are but I recognize the problems with any sort of solution I propose. I cannot abide religion being put on a pedestal and being given special treatment, but I also don't want the state to be obliged to accommodate an individual who sincerely believes that they need to be covered in peanut butter at all times. Limiting such protections to large religions at least makes sure that anything protected is something a lot of people are already doing, so it probably isn't all that hard to deal with.
I don't know how to suggest a better way, exactly. Can we really say that we will provide exemptions to rules for sincerely held beliefs, so long as those beliefs are sincerely held by enough people? How many people? What sorts of beliefs?
Most exemptions are, I think, simple things like clothing and allowance for worship, which honestly aren't that big a thing to just grant to everyone. But if you want to write a law about this sort of thing you need to be reasonably specific about what is allowed and when I try to think about how I would write up a law that specifically allows for rules exemptions but has limitations to make sure we don't cause massive obstructions to our basic systems I end up feeling despair and getting nowhere.