Religious Freedom and Star Wars

By Zachary and Isaac Frazier

There has been a rising amount of tension around questions of religious freedom recently. What seems so obvious and easy on the surface can actually be quite complicated and difficult in the real world. To see just how difficult religious freedom can be in the real world, let’s look at religious freedom in Star Wars. 

In the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith novel, Palpatine is exposed as a Sith Lord and confronted by the Jedi. Palpatine claims that the Jedi’s persecution of him as a Sith is a violation of his religious liberty. In his words, being a Sith is “hardly a crime” and the Constitution of the Republic had “very strict laws against that type of persecution.”

“The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Thomas Jefferson

In our world, religion is often thought of as a matter of personal preference. It is rarely seen as subversive or dangerous, and my neighbor’s religious beliefs don’t seem to affect me one way or the other. 

“Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion.”
John Adams

Since religion can often serve as a source of unity and morality in a society, the government often has no reason to fear it.  Religious freedom is easier to have when the powers that be can use it to keep things the way they are. When a religion supports the common way of life in a culture, there is little incentive to regulate it. Religious language can be helpful to the government. Think about religiously themed national slogans like “God bless America” and “God save the Queen.” June 14, 1954 saw the addition of “One nation under God” to the pledge of allegiance which drew a contrast with atheistic communism. In Star Wars we have “May the Force be with you.”

In Star Wars, however, religions like the Jedi and Sith are not just matters of personal belief, but sources of super-powers. In our world guns are regulated because they are thought of as dangerous in a way that religion is not. But are we certain that religions do not, in fact, provide special powers to their followers?

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a blaster at your side.”
– Han Solo

Real-world religions seem to be able to motivate people to take actions they would have thought impossible. Religion inspires the suicide-bomber and the self-immolating protesterer alike. Religion compels self sacrifice at some times and cruelty and violence at others. On the one hand you have violent, extremist religions creating networks for weapons and terror plots, and on the other hand you have more hopeful religions helping to liberate oppressed people. Movements like ISIS and liberation theology are very different, but both are motivated and empowered by religion. 

Is that power enough to make a religion threatening to the state and merit regulation? Can dangerous religions be more strictly regulated? If the Sith with all their powers were to suddenly appear on the world stage, should their religion be protected? What if it were the Jedi instead? Where is the line? Is true religious freedom possible in the Star Wars universe? Is it even possible in ours?

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