The Phantom Census Menace

The Phantom Census Menace

Future British family history researchers may be puzzled by their early-21st-century ancestors' entry under "religion" on the UK census: "Jedi." According to the CNET news service, a recent e-mail stunt urged Brits to declare themselves members of the "religion" from the Star Wars movies. If enough people wrote...

Future British family history researchers may be puzzled by their early-21st-century ancestors’ entry under “religion” on the UK census: “Jedi.” According to the CNET news service, a recent e-mail stunt urged Brits to declare themselves members of the “religion” from the Star Wars movies. If enough people wrote “Jedi” on their census forms, the e-mails promised, the Office of National Statistics would have to officially recognize faith in “the Force” as a religion. “And remember,” the e-mails added, “if you are a member of the Jedi religion then you are by default a ‘Jedi Knight.'”

Alas for would-be Jedi Knights, a representative of the UK’s Office of National Statistics said, “There won’t be any coding for Jedi. So it won’t be called a religion even if 10,000 people do it.” The spokesperson added, “We’re encouraging people to take (the census) seriously, but we can’t stop them putting ‘Jedi.'”

Completion of the census form is mandatory under a 1920 British law, and those who give false information can be fined. But this penalty does not apply to question number 10, “Religion,” so Jedi Knight wannabes are merely wasting time, not flouting the Census Act.

It’s not an entirely new idea, either. Census officials said that avid soccer fans have written in the name of their favorite team as their “religion.”

Similar Jedi e-mail campaigns also swept through New Zealand and Australia earlier this year. Technically, citizens in both countries could get into more trouble than British Star Wars zealots. New Zealand officials simply opted to ignore the scheme. But the chief of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, John Struik, initially threatened Jedi religionists with a $1,000 fine.

Ultimately, Struik felt the Force, too, and backed off his threat. He even conceded, “It provides a bit of amusement, and people learn about the census.”

Or, as Jedi Master Yoda would say, “Amusing it is. Learn about the census they do.”

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