Power of force leads to census farce

AP, Aug. 27, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) –May the Force be with you. Amen.

More than 70,000 fans of the “Star Wars” movies have upset Australia’s statistics agency by identifying their religion as “Jedi” during last year’s national census.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said Tuesday that 0.37 percent of the nation’s population of 19 million, or 70,509 people, had written “Jedi” or a related response to an optional question about their faith when the head count was taken last August.

Jedi is a mystical faith followed by some of the central characters in the “Star Wars” films.

The prank began early last year when “Star Wars” fans circulated an e-mail across Australia saying the government would be forced to recognize Jedi as an official religion if at least 10,000 people named it on the census.

When made aware of the campaign, the statistics agency announced that respondents faced a fine of Aust. $1,000 ($540) if they were found to have given false information.

In a statement Tuesday on its Internet site, the agency did not say if it would try to fine the Jedi faithful. But it warned that the Australian public ultimately paid the price for census-related pranks.

“The cost of wrong information is to the current and potential users of these services,” the agency said.

“If, for example, people of a particular religious affiliation do not provide the correct information, certain facilities might not be built that otherwise would be.”

Data recorded in the five-yearly national head count is used by government to determine population levels and to assist in policy making.

The bureau said that the Jedi response was categorized as “not defined” for census purposes. The criteria for recognizing a religion go “beyond the number of responses a particular answer receives in the census,” it said.

Heads of households, who are required to fill out the form must by law take responsibility for their answers.

But individuals can be difficult to track down as names and addresses are only required under some circumstances. Once processing is completed all information on names and addresses is destroyed.

Christianity remains the country’s largest religion with more than 12.8 million followers.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday August 27, 2002.
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