Atheists urge Australians 'don't be Jedi' for census
SYDNEY - Agence France-PresseAtheists are urging Australians not to describe themselves as "Jedi" in the upcoming census, warning that doing so in homage to "Star Wars" makes the country appear more religious than it really is.
Ahead of the August 9 five-year census, the Atheist Foundation of Australia has requested citizens mark themselves down as having "no religion" if they do not consider themselves tied to a faith.
"If old religious men in robes do not represent you... don't mark yourself as 'Jedi'," says a campaign poster featuring Yoda and two other Jedi masters.
"'Jedi' and other joke religions are not placed in the 'No Religion' category but in 'Not Defined'. This makes Australia seem more religious than it really is." Foundation president Kylie Sturgess said she was encouraging people "to be counted as what they are".
"Our attitude is, well here's an opportunity to have a say on the census; pop down what you are," she told AFP.
"Maybe 'no religion' suits you, maybe you are someone who has drifted away from the church.
"But unfortunately 'Jedi' is just not an option on the census."
The joke arose years ago when an email campaign wrongly claimed that if 8,000 people put themselves down as Jedi it would have to be officially recognised as a religion.
At the 2001 Australian census, more than 70,500 people listed their faith as "Jedi knight" or something similar, which would indicate the country had nearly as many believers in the "Force" as it had members of the Salvation Army.
"Whether or not people took the claim seriously, it was the start of a reporting phenomenon that gained speed internationally," the Australian Bureau of Statistics said in 2013, adding that New Zealand, Canada, England and Wales subsequently reported large Jedi contingents.
Jedi numbers dropped in the 2006 Australian census to 58,053 but bounced back five years later to 64,390.
Sturgess admits that she has put down Jedi as a "bit of a laugh" in the past.
"But the fact is that the ABS just doesn't count it, they consider it 'not defined'," she said, adding "the joke is kinda getting a bit old".
Australian statisticians could instead follow Britain's example.
In the 2001 England and Wales census, 390,000 people, or 0.7 percent of the population, entered their religion as "Jedi" but they were included among the atheists.
Or they could embrace non-traditional movements as New Zealand did in 2015 when it recognised pastafarians - who wear colanders on their heads, revere pirates and believe the world was created by a giant deity made of spaghetti.