Why you shouldn’t write ‘Jedi’ as your religion in the Census

12 March, 2021

If you’re not religious, say so! We’re encouraging people to tick the ‘no religion’ option on the 2021 Census. Below you can find out more about one aspect of this campaign.

Pledge to tick ‘no religion’ ✅

For some people, it might seem that the data they give to the Census through the religion question is trivial and may not serve much of a purpose or affect them in the long-term. So some have put joke answers such as ‘Jedi’, or used it as an opportunity to protest against unrelated political issue. However, this can actually be counterproductive. 

Why you shouldn’t write in ‘Jedi’

Over 390,000 people answered ‘Jedi’ in the 2001 Census in England and Wales, which shrunk to 176,632 in 2011. However, this did not mean that Jedi became an official religion – it doesn’t work like that!

Census religion data is extremely important in terms of determining policy and making laws that affect us all. It’s used in relation to everything from approving state-funded faith schools and enforcing compulsory religious worship in other state schools to things like contracting out public services to religious organisations that can discriminate against non-religious people and LGBT service users.

If you are not religious, we recommend you simply answer ‘No religion’, because although the ONS will count ‘Jedi’ answers as non-religious, other commentators, organisations, or religious institutions often disaggregate these results and refer only to the people who ticked ‘No religion’ as non-religious. You would then be omitted if you answered ‘Jedi’ – and there would be lower figures for the non-religious.

In our campaigning work, see these arguments made all the time. They give cover to religious groups having a disproportionate and undue influence over political decisions that affect everyone – and which the non-religious are systematically shut out from. So please take the question seriously.

Plus, if nothing else, the Jedi joke is played out. It’s been 20 years. Perhaps it’s time to put a very tired joke to bed?

Why you shouldn’t use the religion question to raise unrelated political issues

Using the religion question’s ‘other religion’ box to protest an issue is not a good means of highlighting it as in fact it is likely, in practice, to be counter-productive to your cause.

For example, very few people write in ‘humanist’ each time (almost all tick ’no religion’, because humanism is not a religion). Unfortunately, census data is then used against humanists because it shows only a very small number of people who wrote it in as their religion. This diminishes rather than strengthens humanist representation.

It‘s very likely that this will happen with other attempts to raise different political issues through the Census. There is the danger that the small number recorded in the Census could be used inversely against activists by their opponents – even if, on a more reasonable analysis, those numbers suggest that a write-in campaign performed well.

The last thing activists should consider is that he ONS will try to categorise all responses into their religious coding framework. For example, if you write ‘heavy metal’ in the other box, you will probably be categorised as non-religious, but if you write ‘heathen’, they’ll put you in the system as religious. It is possible the ONS will code your response as religious, even if you are not religious, or in some other way that you might not agree with. So if you’re not religious, please, say so!