Dec 20, 2016

Jedi order fails in attempt to register as religious group

Star Wars films
Charity Commission rejects Temple of the Jedi Order’s application on basis that it is not a ‘cogent and distinct religion’

Alice Ross
The Guardian
December 19, 2016

A Star Wars-inspired organisation has failed to use the force of its arguments to convince the charity watchdog that it should be considered a religious organisation.

The Temple of the Jedi Order, members of which follow the tenets of the faith central to the
Star Wars films, sought charitable status this year, but the Charity Commission has ruled that it does not meet the criteria for a religion under UK charity law.

The commission wrote that Jediism “lacks the necessary spiritual or non-secular element” it was looking for in a religion.

The Temple of the Jedi Order was an “entirely web-based organisation and the Jedi are predominantly, if not exclusively, an online community,” the commission noted. There was “insufficient evidence that moral improvement is central to the beliefs and practices of [the group].”

It said the doctrine promoted by the group borrowed widely from other world religions and philosophies, but “the commission does not consider that the aggregate amounts to a sufficiently cogent and distinct religion”. It added that Jediism was highly permissive, with many different interpretations possible.

Kenneth Dibble, the Charity Commission’s chief legal adviser, said: “The meaning of ‘religion’ in charity law has developed over many years and now encompasses a wide range of belief systems.

“The decisions which the commission makes on the extent of this meaning can be difficult and complex, but are important in maintaining clarity on what is and is not charitable.”

The Temple of the Jedi Order, based in Beaumont, Texas, is recognised as a charitable or non-profit group by the US Internal Revenue Service. Last year the charity regulator in New Zealand rejected an application by another group for Jediism to be considered a religion for charitable purposes.

The Temple’s website says it promotes “goodwill, understanding, compassion and serenity.”

“We do not teach mystical powers or how to build lightsabers, we are not a dedicated Star Wars fan site, we are not affiliated with George Lucas or Disney and we are not for people who just want to wear a badge reading ‘I’m a Jedi’,” it says.

Brenna Cavell, 32, a psychologist and spokeswoman for the Temple, said the group was disappointed by the charity commission’s decision. “We put a lot of work into the application and really did our best to illustrate why we do consider ourselves a religion and why we believe we do offer benefits not just to our members but also to the public at large,” she said.

The group had made the application to ensure that people who donated money towards the Temple’s upkeep “have a sense of the legitimacy, that we do take it seriously and that any money that they do give to us is properly stewarded”, she added.

Cavell said the Temple of the Jedi Order was inspired by the philosophy that underpinned the Star Wars universe, which itself was inspired by the work of the mythologist Joseph Campbell rather than by the movies themselves.

“It’s not based on worshipping of the force or George Lucas, although many of our members refer to a higher power or the transcendent as the force. But you could easily exchange it for God, the universe … it’s the same thing to us, we just happened to pick that name.”

In the UK, Jedi has been the most popular alternative religion in two consecutive editions of the census, after a national campaign led to more than 390,000 people (0.7% of the population) describing themselves as Jedi Knights on the 2001 census. Numbers fell sharply a decade later, but there were still 176,632 people who told the government they were Jedi Knights.

The Temple of the Jedi Order could not provide figures on how many active members it has in the UK. Cavell said around 30,000 people had accounts with the site worldwide, and around 750 people a year became members.

“It’s always a little busier around the time the new movies come out, of course,” she said.

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