Census beyond the Jedi

MICHAEL MOORE looks at the political consequences of religion in the forthcoming census

CENSUS 2001 and 2006 saw many people claiming that their religion was “Jedi”. 

It was on a par with the Sun Ripened Warm Tomato Party of the first ACT election as a great way to poke fun at the only voluntary question in the census.

However, people who are not currently practising a religion can contribute to a better understanding of our country if they answer the question in this year’s census (on Tuesday, August 9)  by identifying as having “no religion”.

Many people who have a deep spirituality, but are not part of organised religion should also identify as “no religion”. The “no-religion” box should be ticked by all those Australians who have Christian morals, but are not practising a specific religion.

In this way, sensible decisions will be made by governments who need to understand the numbers of Australians who respect other people’s rights to believe in structured religion but expect respect for their right to not believe and not have decisions made on their behalf that are based on someone else’s religious beliefs.

The census is an important tool that assists governments make accurate decisions. However, something is wrong about this question on religion. More than 60 per cent of Australians chose civil marriage ceremonies and an even higher percentage chose civil funerals. Church lands are being sold, congregations are shrinking and religious days are simply seen as holidays.

In 1991, 12.9 per cent of Australians who answered the census religion question identified as having no religious beliefs. The numbers increased to 16.6 per cent in 1996, dropped in 2001 (the year of the Jedi) to 15.5 per cent and, at the last census, in 2006 hit an all-time high at 18.7 per cent.

The ABS explained why people should not use “Jedi” before the 2001 census, pointing out that the organisation “recognises that people have a wide range of belief systems”. The explanation continued:“If your belief system is ‘Jedi’ then answer as such on the census form. But if you would normally answer Anglican or Jewish or Buddhist or something else to the question ‘what is your religion?’ and for the census you answer ‘Jedi’ then this may impact on social services provision if enough people do the same.”

This response explains the importance of ticking the “no-religion” box if you are not a practising religious person.

Politicians, governments and those with a barrow to push use this statistic to justify the argument that Australia is a Christian country and therefore our laws should be based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ.

This is the sort of information that allows governments to boost by $220million the ludicrous spending on the schools chaplaincy program in government schools.
According to an ABS media release in 2001 around 70,000 people identified as “Jedi” – competing in numbers with religions such as the Salvation Army and the Seventh Day Adventists.
It is now time to have sensible decisions made on what people really believe. On census night, make it clear that religion and philosophy are about personal choice.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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