New Zealand says no to Jedis

New Zealand's Jedi Society was established in April 2014. According to the society's Web site, it was established to help aid the "advancement of the Jedi," to promote "understanding and knowledge of the Force" and to "enable eternal vigilance of the Sith."

Unfortunately, it's already hit a significant hurdle. New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs recently denied its request for tax-free status, as it is not a religion.

According to the Australian Associated Press, the department's charity services board found that the society did not "promote a moral or spiritual improvement," one requirement needed for a group to claim charitable status on religious grounds. More damningly, the New Zealand government found that Jediism was not "structured, cogent or serious" enough to "advance religion."

For the uninitiated, Jediism has its roots in the fictional Star Wars universe. In that world, the Jedi are an ancient spiritual organization known for their good deeds and mastery of a mysterious power called the Force. The idea of a "Jedi Knight" became well-known with the 1977 release of George Lucas's original "Star Wars" movie and its subsequent sequels and prequels.

It was only in 2001, however, that Jediism really began to make an impact in this world. Around that time, e-mail campaigns spread in Britain urging residents to list their religion as "Jedi" or "Jedi Knight" on national census forms, arguing that if Jediism received enough support, it would become an officially acknowledged religion (mistakenly, as it turns out).

In England and Wales, almost 0.8 percent of the population listed its religion as Jedi in the 2001 census, making it the fourth largest reported religion — larger than established, international religions like Sikhism, Judaism or Buddhism. Similar campaigns also appeared in other English-speaking countries, including Canada and Australia, with varying degrees of success.

Rather than responding with indignation or anger, some authorities greeted the rise of Jediism with amusement – and even encouragement.

"Whatever its motive, the Jedi campaign may have worked in favour of the Census exercise," John Pullinger, director of reporting and analysis at Britain's Office for National Statistics, said in a 2001 statement. "Census agencies worldwide report difficulties encouraging those in their late teens and twenties to complete their forms. We suspect that the Jedi response was most common in precisely this age group."

Still, Jediism thrived. In 2008, a British man named Daniel Jones founded the Church of Jediism and began writing scripture that went beyond what was described in the "Star Wars" films, mixing elements of a variety of other religious movements like Buddhism and Taoism into a new nontheist patchwork. The following year, Jones made headlines after he was thrown out of a supermarket after refusing to remove his hood. "It was discrimination," Jones told the Daily Mail afterward, claiming that hoods must be worn by all practicing Jedis when in public.

In recent years, the movement has gradually become international, with thousands of people in the Czech Republic declaring themselves Jedis and a petition to build a Jedi temple at a Turkish university. It seems likely that no country has embraced Jediism quite as readily as New Zealand, where 53,715 listed Jedi as their religion on the 2001 census – more than 1.3 percent of the country's total population that year. As Jedis like to point out, that's considerably more than many other recognized religions in the country.

And while Jediism is not currently considered a religion by New Zealand authorities, it may one day be. Authorities in New Zealand have acknowledged that Jediism "addresses weighty and substantial aspects of human life" and could one day develop the structure needed to receive charitable status on religious grounds. Anthony Bremner of the New Zealand Jedi Society told the Web site Stuff that his society was already planning to make some changes and reapply for charitable status.

"Not achieving charity status would be disappointing to those without Jedi training," he said. "Disappointment is not a Jedi trait."