Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero asked his Twitter followers this week if atheism was a religion and whether it should be protected under the First Amendment clauses dealing with legal protection. I thought of those questions when coming across coverage of how the founder of the Jedi Church was treated at the Tesco supermarket. Here's the Telegraph's treatment and here's the Guardian's. From the Telegraph:
Daniel Jones, 23, who created the International Church of Jediism, claims he was "victimised over his beliefs" by staff at the supermarket in Bangor, North Wales.
The religion, inspired by the sci-fi films, is practised by 500,000 around the world and requires believers to cover their heads in public places. But Mr Jones, from Holyhead, said that staff ejected him from the store over security fears when he refused to remove his hood.
Mr Jones, also known by his Jedi name Morda Hehol, told The Sun: "I told them it was a requirement of my religion but they just sniggered and ordered me to leave.
"I walked past a Muslim lady in a veil. Surely the same rules should apply to everyone."
The Guardian has some choice quotes from the Tesco chain, including:
"If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they'll miss lots of special offers."
It's all good for some laughs but it leaves the distinct impression that Jediism isn't a legitimate religion. And it may not be, depending on one's definition of what a religion is. The reader who submitted the story says more questions need to be answered -- "Is there more to the religion than head coverings? Do they have sacred texts? Are the movies considered authoritative? How does one convert? Do they have services, clergy, dogma?" I might also question what it means that the founder claims 500,000 members.
Stories like these are fun but they also require some serious answers, too.