Get to the bottom of issue regarding huge donations

Is the so-called “spiritual sales” tactic that was a social problem in the past still continuing? There is a need to clarify the actual situation as soon as possible, and if there is any illegal activity, it needs to be dealt with strictly from both criminal and civil perspectives.

The fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sparked a wave of criticism of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — widely known as the Unification Church — because the arrested suspect was quoted as saying that he was motivated by a grudge against the group, to which his mother had joined and made large donations.

However, at a press conference on Aug. 10, the Unification Church said, “We have taken thorough measures not to engage in any socially or legally problematic behavior since 2009.” The group stressed that civil lawsuits filed by former followers and others have decreased, and it is responding appropriately to requests for donation refunds.

Since the 1980s, the Unification Church has been involved in a series of problems, such as the “spiritual sales” tactic, which involves cajoling people into buying items such as pots and seals at exorbitant prices, by stoking anxieties with talk of “ancestral curses.” The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales said it had received 564 consultations for damages claims totaling ¥5.4 billion in the five years through 2021.

The government must swiftly find out whether there are any problems with the Unification Church’s solicitations for new followers and donation collection practices. The police also should gather more information and consider launching an investigation if malicious cases are confirmed.

The man arrested in the shooting incident was quoted as saying that his mother had been bankrupted after donating a total of ¥100 million, which led to the collapse of his family. The issue of children who suffer as a result of a parent’s religious activities has been dubbed the “second-generation religious problem.”

The Unification Church insists that it is responding to requests for donation refunds, but it is unacceptable, in the first place, to collect donations so large that families are destroyed.

In response to the mounting public criticism, the group said at the press conference, “This is a violation of human rights.” Before acting as if it is a victim, it should take a look at itself and change its activities.

The relationship between the Unification Church and politicians is also drawing attention because many lawmakers were supported by the group during election campaigns. In the latest Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida asked lawmakers whom he sounded out for Cabinet posts to sever ties with the group, stating that a self-inspection and strict review were prerequisites.

It is not considered to be a problem under the Constitution for religious organizations to be involved in political activities. However, given the suspicions regarding the Unification Church, Kishida’s move may be a natural response.

It is worrisome that some people seem to approve of Abe’s shooting because of his association with the Unification Church. It is irrational to direct resentment against the group at Abe. Regardless of the motive, the crime is absolutely unacceptable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 11, 2022)