Friday, December 30, 2016

UK Commission Rules Jediism not a Religious Charity

The Charity Commission for England and Wales officially ruled earlier this month that Jediism is not a religious charity.  The official report can be found here, and this article provides a useful summary.  The difficult path for acceptance for Jediism goes back years (see this earlier post from 2011), and this ruling gives a sense of finality to the matter... at least temporarily until more efforts are made for wider acceptance of Jediism.

The Commission is tasked with identifying which organizations be given official charity status.  Despite the headlines for some news articles, this ruling does not declare that Jediism is not a religion.  It instead ruled that the particular group that applied for recognition as a religious charity -- the Temple of the Jedi Order -- does not merit that recognition because they determined that the group was not organized for "exclusively charitable purposes for the advancement of religion and/or the promotion of moral and ethical improvement for the benefit of the public."  Those that associate themselves with this group may consider their beliefs and practices to be religion, but they will not receive the legal benefits accorded to other recognized religious groups in the U.K.

Although the origins of Jediism in the U.K. are actually tied to a joke answer given on the government census, this latest event illustrates the complexity of defining religion.  See the official report in particular.  Using case law as a guide, the Commission only considers a group to have religious status if it has a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance.  The report lays out how Jediism fails to meet this standard.  At one level, the report reflects common sense that ideas taken from a fictional movie should not be given the same status as those from historical religious figures.  Yet, the argument laid out in the report makes numerous suppositions of a very subjective nature.  For example, it gives credit to a similar New Zealand ruling that Jediism is a set of interconnected ideas rather than a structured coherent religion.  Exactly where is the line drawn between set of interconnected ideas and structured coherent religion?

This story is not over.  The British Jedis will continue the fight, and if they do so long enough I suspect they will get that recognition.  It always takes new groups time and effort to achieve recognition.  The Jedis just need to stick around long enough, act sufficiently like other religious groups (have meetings, be seen in public doing good deeds, codify their teachings, etc.) in the meantime, and they will then get the recognition they want.  Will they last that long, or is their future bleak and their peak limited to a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away?

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