Use the force: what is a religion for charitable purposes?
(Written by Angelo Micciche, with apologies to George Lucas)
A long time ago (well, 2016) in a galaxy far, far away, a decision by the Charity Commissioners featured in the columns of many national newspapers. However it did not feature very highly in any legal articles. This is an observation which you may think says a lot about the writers of such articles, or perhaps it says more about this writer for wishing to write about it now!
The Temple of the Jedi Order (TOTJO) applied for charitable status in England and Wales in March 2016. In a blow for the Rebel Alliance and by way of a boost for the Empire, the Charity Commission decided that, under section 208 Charities Act 2011, they should refuse the application. It was not satisfied that TOTJO was established for exclusively charitable purposes for the advancement of religion and for the promotion of moral and ethical improvements for the benefit of the public.
The purposes of TOTJO were examined. They were to “advance the religion of Jedis, for the public benefit worldwide, in accordance with the Jedi doctrine’. Appendix A of the purposes of TOTJO, provides a definition of Jediism and sets out the beliefs of Jedi, 3 Tenets, the Jedi Creed, the Jedi code, the powers, teaching and who can get involved. The definition of Jediism is given as ‘a religion based on the observance of the force, an ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi believes to be the underlying fundamental nature of the universe.”
By reference to case law, the Commission said that it was not concerned with the truth or otherwise of beliefs. Again, citing case law, to be a religion it must be capable of providing moral and ethical value or edification to the public and characterise a certain level of influence, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
The Commission helpfully noted that TOTJO is ‘an entirely web-based organisation and the Jedi is predominantly, if not exclusively, an online community’.
It was also noted that a charitable organisation should result in the public benefit, not merely be devoted to the self-improvement of its own members (presumably whether or not levitating an X-Wing Fighter through meditation whilst standing on one hand).
In dismissing the application, the Commission was not satisfied that TOTJO satisfied the public benefit requirement for the advancement of religion or the promotion of moral or ethical improvement. For the Jedis there was however the consolation prize that the Commission’s view that TOTJO does not within its teachings include anything contrary to the law or in contravention of public policy (agents of the Dark Side such as the Sith need not apply).
It is interesting to note that in October 2017 the IRS granted TOTJO recognition as a charity in the United States. This was on the grounds that it asserted, in good faith, that its purposes and activities are religious. One commentator said that this may have been as a result of the First Amendment to the American Constitution which prohibits the government from enacting laws establishing a religion and, in this case, stopping another organisation claiming itself as such.
To any droids who may question the topical nature of this article, the writer belatedly says May the Fourth be with you.