• Yomiuri Editorial
  • Unification Church

Carefully follow procedures for probe into controversial religious group

This is the first time that a probe will be launched into a religious corporation suspected of antisocial activities. The government must move ahead carefully with procedures for that purpose.

The Cultural Affairs Agency has held the first meeting of a panel of experts on the issue of the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The expert panel will discuss guidelines for the government to ask the Unification Church for reports or question the organization under the Religious Corporations Law.

This exercise of the “right to ask questions” is unprecedented. It is appropriate to hear the opinions of religious, legal and other experts before conducting the probe so as not to invite criticism such as “unfair interference by the state in religious activities.”

From now on, based on the views of the expert panel, the education, culture, sports, science and technology minister plans to consult its Religious Corporations Council about conducting the probe. If, as a result of the probe, it is determined that malicious acts continue to be committed, the government will seek a court order to dissolve the organization.

There has been a spate of claims of damage caused by the Unification Church, such as through its so-called spiritual sales tactics and huge amounts of donations made by its followers. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but spirituality and illegal activities under the cover of religious activities are two totally different issues. Activities that include extorting excessive donations cannot be left unchecked.

What is worrisome is that the government’s response to this has been noticeably erratic.

At a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Oct. 18, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that illegal acts under the Civil Code would not be within the scope of the requirements for the dissolution order. However, at a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting on Oct. 19, he changed his answer, saying that such acts “could be included.” He added that the change was the result of “sorting out the government’s way of thinking” on the matter.

In its 1995 decision regarding the dissolution order for the Aum Supreme Truth cult, the Tokyo High Court defined the acts that provide grounds for dissolution as ones that violate laws and regulations such as the Penal Code. The court decision does not necessarily limit the criteria for judgment to the Penal Code. Kishida seems to have taken a broad view of the criteria for deciding on dissolution because he is aware of the harsh public opinion against the Unification Church.

However, it is unusual for the prime minister to change his answers in the Diet. There are many cases in which replies by prime ministers, such as on Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented security policy, have become established as the government’s positions. It is regrettable that the sudden change in Kishida’s answers has given the impression that the government’s preparation is lacking.

The structure of the Cultural Affairs Agency, which oversees religious corporations, is also fragile. The agency’s Religious Affairs Division has only eight full-time employees. The cooperation of other related ministries and agencies is essential.

It is noteworthy that four parties — the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin no Kai (the Japan Innovation Party) — have embarked on legislative efforts to help victims and regulate exorbitant donations.

However, problems have been pointed out with proposals made by the CDPJ and Ishin. They insist on the creation of a system that would allow family members to revoke huge amounts of donations made under mind control. But restrictions on property rights without the consent of the individual could raise constitutional questions.

It is hoped that each party will calmly and carefully promote discussions by setting aside maneuvers for party interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 26, 2022)