Strange Church: Jediism, the First Church of Cannabis and other actual, tax exempt religions recognized in the US
Becoming a recognized “church” might be easier than you think
One of the coolest things about the foundation of this great nation, is the American freedom of religion. As a citizen you have the grand right to believe in whatever the fuck you want to. That isn’t a luxury that many people throughout history have gotten to enjoy.
And it’s one that the people have taken and run with. Because, if one can believe in whatever they want, legally, why wouldn’t they take it to the extreme? After all, that’s kind of been the modus operandi of religious people for most of human history.
However, with freedom of religion, also comes a certain special government classification: tax exemption. A classification that means, legitimate, federally recognized religious organizations like the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church and the Church of Scientology are all free from paying taxes on their income. They don’t have to contribute to society with their dollars, even though they are very clearly a business operation.
In theory, tax exempting churches keeps the church separate from the state (as is mandated by our constitution), it protects churches from being shut down by the government (the IRS can’t come knocking down the door), and since they are technically considered non-profits, if we started taxing churches, we’d have to tax all non-profits.
Still, the idea that a business can get a tax exempted status because they identify as a church seems a little ridiculous. Especially when you start parsing out the different religious organizations that have actually managed to get federal tax exemption status.
So, let’s take a look, shall we? Here are a handful of our favorite federally recognized, tax-exempt churches.
Temple of the Jedi Order
In 2001 almost 250,000 people worldwide listed themselves as “Jedi” on a census. While the majority of those who identified as Jedi were probably just yanking chains and getting a good laugh, it actually started a movement that became an affiliation and eventually, a legitimate religion.
The Temple of the Jedi Order was granted its tax-exempt status in 2015, in Texas, and they haven’t paid a dollar to the Feds since.
As you might have ascertained from the name, members of the Temple of the Jedi Order fancy themselves masters of the force, followers of the philosophy of the fictional Jedi Order from Star Wars. However, these devoted nerds insist that their path is a different one from that of the fictional characters portrayed in George Lucas’ masterpiece universe. According to their website, Jedi believe:
- In the Force, and in the inherent worth of all life within it.
- In the sanctity of the human person. We oppose the use of torture and cruel or unusual punishment, including the death penalty.
- In a society governed by laws grounded in reason and compassion, not in fear or prejudice.
- In a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or circumstances of birth such as gender, ethnicity and national origin.
- In the ethic of reciprocity, and how moral concepts are not absolute but vary by culture, religion, and over time.
- In the positive influence of spiritual growth and awareness on society.
- In the importance of freedom of conscience and self-determination within religious, political and other structures.
- In the separation of religion and government and the freedoms of speech, association, and expression.
Which are all pretty cool tenants. The question is: how does something go from a silly census joke that started in the UK, to becoming a bonafide tax-exempt church in Texas?
That’s a question we may never know the answer to. But I’d wager that it had something to do with some dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fans who saw an opportunity to realize at least part of their fantasy… (and make some tax-free income in the process).
Church of Euthanasia Inc
“Save the planet. Kill yourself.”
That’s the credo of the Church of Euthanasia, a “non-profit educational foundation devoted to restoring balance between Humans and the remaining species on Earth.”
The church was started in 1992 by Chris Korda, a cross-gendered vegan with a powerful disdain for population growth. There are only four principals to her ideology: suicide, abortion, cannibalism and sodomy. And there is only one, single tenant: “Thou shalt not procreate.”
If you break that rule, “you are guaranteed excommunication. There are no exceptions; abortion will be required, period.”
Of course, avoiding that is simple. Stick to Korda’s fourth tenant of sodomy and you’ll never have to worry about being kicked out of her church. And as for that bit on cannibalism? Well, on her website’s FAQ page Korda explains that in order to achieve their goals, “It would also be very helpful if you could manage to abstain from eating non-human flesh.”
It’s important to note, though that, The Church of Euthanasia does not require its members to actually kill themselves – though, on the FAQ page Korda also states that members who actually do off themselves automatically become saints, and that she’s happy to acquire their estate from them should they be willing to leave it to her.
Sounds like a real cool gal.
Church of All Worlds
I don’t even know where to begin here.
A long time ago (back in the 60’s) in a far-away land (St. Louis, Missouri) a group of “friends and lovers” who were inspired by a science fiction book called “Stranger in a Strange Land,” decided to start a, “religious group whose stated mission is to evolve a network of information, mythology, and experience that provides a context and stimulus for reawakening Gaia and reuniting her children through tribal community dedicated to responsible stewardship and evolving consciousness.”
Whew. What a mouthful.
And the real ideology behind this religion is almost as impenetrable as that run-on sentence of an explanation. From what I can gather, it’s all about self-actualization and environmental stewardship. They’re essentially neo-pagans, with science-fiction overtones, and they got their tax-exempt status from the IRS in 1970.
They had “nests” across the US throughout the mid- and late-70’s until internal strife and diverging factions caused much of the church to dissolve. There was a renaissance at some point, a bunch of subsidiaries, a second renaissance and all kinds of truly thrilling drama in between.
Now, it’s a scattered and thin group of individuals clutching at a fading fantasy.
Founded by a guy known as Raël (actually Claude Vorilhorn), is a UFO religion. They believe that a species of extraterrestrial scientists seeded life on Earth. These “Elohims” purposefully misrepresented themselves to early man, as angels, gods or prophets of “God.”
Which is why we have historical figures like Muhammed, Jesus Christ, the Buddha and other prominent religious figures. Those were actually human-like aliens according to the Raëlists.
Their official conception was in 1974 when a conference of about 2000 Raëlists gathered for a conference in France. Today they’ve got official positions on LGBTQ rights, human cloning, pedophilia, structure of the universe and intelligent design.
Vorilhorn himself had encounters throughout his life with extraterrestrials (apparently) who gave him the deep knowledge of the origins of all major religions on the planet. Vorilhorn, an automobile journalist and race car driver, took that profound revelation and made a religion out of it. Literally.
They were awarded their tax-exempt status in 1995.
The First Church of Cannabis
And of course, we saved the best for last.
Founded in 2015 by Bill Levin, an Indiana resident and self-proclaimed Grand Poobah, The First Church of Cannabis is Rooster’s kinda’ church. Levin had the idea for the church while he was baked off his ass and watching the Flintstones one night. It was in response to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a kind of Fuck You to the state for upholding the prohibition of cannabis.
They were granted their tax-exempt status in March of 2015, less than a month after Levin put in the application.
There is only one congregation of the First Church of Cannabis, and it’s in Indianapolis, Indiana. Monthly Dues are a mere $4.20 (naturally). There are twelve tenants to their ideology, affectionately referred to as the “Deity Dozen” and they are as follows:
- Treat everyone with love as an equal.
- The day starts with your smile every morning. When you get up, wear it first.
- Help others when you can. Not for money, but because it's needed.
- Treat your body as a temple. Do not poison it with poor quality foods and sodas.
- Do not take advantage of people. Do not intentionally hurt anything.
- Never start a fight… only finish them.
- Grow food, raise animals, get nature into your daily routine.
- Do not be a "troll" on the internet, respect others without name calling and being vulgarly aggressive.
- Spend at least 10 mins a day just contemplating life in a quiet space.
- Protect those who cannot protect themselves.
- Laugh often, share humor. Have fun in life, be positive.
- Cannabis, "the Healing Plant" is our sacrament. It brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression. We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.
Now those are some rules to live by.