Wednesday, 4 May 2011

May the fourth be with you

From time to time, this blog mentions special days in the calendars of the various religions, or notes particular occasions throughout the year when something special brings different faiths together – World Religion Day, Earth Day etc.

Today has become known as Star Wars day, for obvious reasons. You can check it out on Wookieepedia:

Those who entered "Jedi Knight" in the religion section of the 2001 Census were consigned en masse to the "No religion" category. Back then, an internet campaign encouraged people to write in “Jedi” as their religion. An email supporting the campaign urged people to declare themselves as Jedi knights, “because you love Star Wars ... or just to annoy people.” This was included in a feature on the BBC national news, the night before the 2001 Census. That probably bumped up the number a bit: 390,000 people in England and Wales did so (0.7% of population). That’s greater than national figures for these recognised faiths:

·         Baha’i 5,000 (>0.01% of population)
·         Buddhist 144,453 (0.3% of population)
·         Jain 15,000 (0.03% of population)
·         Jewish 259,927 (0.5% of population)
·         Sikh 329,358 (0.6% of population)

In Leicester 2,371 people wrote in “Jedi” as their religion in the 2001 Census. that was 0.8% of the city's population.

Now: whenever I meet someone who states proudly that they’re one of those who put their religion as “Jedi” in the 2001 Census, I tell them that if they can show me a Jedi trick, I’ll convert to it – in fact, I’ll do better than that, I’ll become their Padawan learner. Hasn’t happened yet.

Mind you, I don’t see the point in giving people the right to declare their religious affiliation, even giving them the freedom to write in the religion of their choice, but then the government gets to say, “No, we’re not having that.”

It will be interesting to see how many people identifed themselves as Jedi in the 2011 Census. I'd predict that the number will have dropped considerably but we'll have to wait and see to what extent it was a jok or a fad - and how many have stuck with it.

There's a myth that if enough people write in something (just about anything) in the "other" section of that religion question, then the government would be compelled to classify it as a religion. There was a fiarly low key campaign this time to get Manchester United fans to put that as their religion.

Here’s a link to one of the first widespread stories about the Jedi as a religion in this country, published in the free daily paper. I searched it out on the Metro website, where the date isn’t displayed, but I recall it being some time in the summer of 2008. I’m unable to copy the text from the website but here’s the link:

It’s not so much the article itself that I liked, so much as a reader’s response in the letters page a couple of days later. The text of that letter isn’t available online and I didn’t keep a copy. But it said something along the following lines: the writer was sorry to see the disparaging attitude that the paper appeared to be taking toward the establishment of the first Jedi church, objecting that it was male dominated, hierarchical, celebrated violence and based on a work of fiction. The writer asked, “Aren’t they all?”

Here’s an article I did manage to keep though, which was published in The Guardian, Saturday 19 September 2009.

Jedi religion founder accuses Tesco of discrimination over rules on hoods

Daniel Jones says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following incident at store in Wales

By Helen Carter

Tesco has been accused of religious discrimination after the company ordered the founder of a Jedi religion to remove his hood or leave a branch of the supermarket in north Wales.

Daniel Jones, founder of the religion inspired by the Star Wars films, says he was humiliated and victimised for his beliefs following the incident at a Tesco store in Bangor.

The 23-year-old, who founded the International Church of Jediism, which has 500,000 followers worldwide, was told the hood flouted store rules.

But the grocery empire struck back, claiming that the three best known Jedi Knights in the Star Wars movies – Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker– all appeared in public without their hoods. Jones, from Holyhead, who is known by the Jedi name Morda Hehol, said his religion dictated that he should wear the hood in public places and is considering legal action against the chain.

"It states in our Jedi doctrination that I can wear headwear. It just covers the back of my head," he said.

"You have a choice of wearing headwear in your home or at work but you have to wear a cover for your head when you are in public."

He said he'd gone to the store to buy something to eat during his lunch break when staff approached him and ordered him to the checkout where they explained he would have to remove the offending hood or leave the store.

"They said: 'Take it off'', and I said: 'No, it’s part of my religion. It's part of my religious right.' I gave them a Jedi church business card.

"They weren't listening to me and were rude. They had three people around me. It was intimidating." Jones, who has made an official complaint to Tesco, is considering a boycott of the store and is seeking legal advice.

Tesco said: "He hasn't been banned. Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.

"If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they'll miss lots of special offers."

Read this article on The Guardian website, along with reader comments:

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