What is Jediism? Religion in the “Star Wars” universe

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This article was first published in the State of the Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

If you’re a Disney+ subscriber like me, you know the “Star Wars” universe continues to grow. Currently, the streaming service releases a new episode of “The Book of Boba Fett” every week, and it plans to produce several more “Star Wars”-related TV shows and movies over the next few years.

All of these developments are possible, at least in part, thanks to the franchise’s enduring popularity. In the United States and around the world, the seemingly ever-growing community of “Star Wars” fans watch and re-watch the original films, read related books, and sometimes even incorporate aspects of a galaxy far, far away into their lives. religious.

Yes, you read that right. “Star Wars” inspired religious activity. For example, the Temple of the Jedi Order invites participants to recognize “the force” at work in their own lives and use it for good.

It may sound far-fetched to you, but, in 2015, the US government recognized Jediism as an international ministry and granted its application for tax-exempt status. The movement, which is inspired by the mythology of the “Star Wars” films, has had less luck in the UK. In 2016, the Charity Commission for England and Wales refused to grant charity status to the Temple of the Jedi Order because the commissioners determined that it was not primarily for charitable purposes.


A guide to the political battles affecting faith-based fostering

Last week I published a long article on faith-based fostering agencies that could have been even longer. Towards the end of the writing process, I removed a whole section on policy-making for fear that it wouldn’t fit well into a prosecution-focused story.

In this week’s newsletter, I give this deleted section a second life.

Here’s a guide to the political battles related to foster care that are unfolding alongside the legal battles I explored last week.

Congress

Congress is considering the future of publicly funded faith-based agencies as part of a broader gay rights debate. There are currently two bills before federal lawmakers that would add LGBTQ discrimination protections to civil rights law and both would change existing funding rules.

Under the Equality Act, which was passed by the US House of Representatives in February 2021, foster care agencies would not be eligible to receive public funding if they discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender. In other words, federally funded agencies could not refuse to place children with same-sex couples, even if they have a religious objection to same-sex marriage.

Under the Fairness for All Act, sponsored by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, faith-based agencies would remain eligible for federal funding. The bill proposes an indirect funding model where government money goes directly to prospective foster parents who, in turn, give it to the agency of their choice.

The Biden Administration

In addition to calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act, President Joe Biden has embroiled himself in clashes with foster families by adjusting how the government handles requests for religious exemptions to the rules of no discrimination.

In November, the Department of Health and Human Services revoked waivers offered to faith-based agencies by the Trump administration. Current officials said they were always open to welcoming religious organizations, but would consider exemption requests on a case-by-case basis.

While notable, this decision was not as significant as it first appears, according to Alex Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Biden administration, like the Trump and Obama administrations before it, has a general policy of not enforcing non-discrimination rules against faith-based agencies.

“Even though the Biden administration has withdrawn the waivers, there is a non-application notice that has not been lifted,” he said.

Still, the November announcement drew an outcry from more conservative religious groups, as well as Republican leaders.

State Legislatures

In last week’s story, I described a new lawsuit in Tennessee that focuses on a state law strengthening religious freedom protections for faith-based agencies. The law was passed in 2020 as part of a wave of bills aimed at ensuring protections against LGBTQ discrimination do not interfere with the work of religious organizations.

Today, about eight states allow publicly funded faith-based agencies to turn away couples who don’t meet religion-related criteria. Both Indiana and Arizona are debating similar policy proposals this year, but, for the most part, it appears state legislatures have turned their attention to other issues, Luchenitser said.

“It seems that most states that are inclined to adopt this type of legislation have already enacted it. Maybe there won’t be more to come,” he said.


Fresh off the press


What I read…

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, Oregon, like most churches, views feeding the hungry as an expression of faith. But, unlike most churches, its free lunch program has enabled St. Timothy’s to problem with the law. The congregation is going against a new city ordinance limiting free lunch programs to two days a week. St. Timothy’s and its Episcopal Diocese recently filed a lawsuit claiming the policy violates the church’s religious exercise rights, NPR reported last week.

Basketball has deep religious roots. It was started in a Christian college by a Presbyterian pastor. And his ties to faith don’t end there, according to sports and Christian historian Paul Putz. In a great article for Christianity Today, Putz discusses how black churches helped shape the NBA into what it is today, as well as how they continue to inspire players. social justice activism.

The tornado that ripped through Mayfield, Kentucky in December left dozens of destroyed or damaged buildings in its wake. Historic churches are part of the building, which means many congregations in Mayfield now face an important choice: do they rebuild their space exactly as it was, or do they take a leap of faith and try something new? My buddy Bobby Ross wrote about the situation for The Associated Press.


Tips

President Joe Biden’s choice for US special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, Deborah Lipstadt, finally got a thumbs up. confirmation hearing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Republican members of the committee had delayed the hearing for months due to concerns about Lipstadt’s political beliefs. After recent attacks on synagogues and Jews, a coalition of Jewish organizations successfully urged them to stop dragging their feet.

The Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation hosts a virtual event February 15 on the role of religion in the debate over suffrage and other social justice issues. The program is one of the Center’s offerings for Black History Month.

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