Legislation urgently needed to rectify damage

Heinous actions aimed at fueling people’s anxiety with the aim of collecting large donations cannot be allowed to go unchecked. The government and the ruling and opposition parties need to work together to find a way to remedy the suffering that has been caused.

In response to issues involving the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the government has presented the ruling and opposition parties with the outline of a new law that would prohibit the improper solicitation of donations. The government aims to pass the law during the current Diet session.

The Unification Church has been involved in a series of problems, such as so-called spiritual sales that cajole people into buying items at expensive prices. The fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brought to light the serious harm that has resulted, such as parents making large donations that impoverish their children.

It is extremely important for the ruling and opposition parties to cooperate to remedy the damage and prevent similar incidents in the future. They must work on establishing legislation without political bargaining.

Under the new law, the government intends to prohibit soliciting donations by stirring people’s anxiety through such comments as “Your ancestors are suffering.” It will also prohibit religious organizations from asking their followers to borrow money or sell their real estate in order to raise funds. If these rules are violated, a donation can be revoked.

If a group repeatedly engages in prohibited activities, the government will recommend they stop or order them to do so. If the group does not comply, criminal penalties will be imposed.

Acts that drive followers and their families into bankruptcy will not be tolerated. It is reasonable that the new law is aimed at curbing these despicable tactics.

A focus of debate is whether to allow spouses and children to revoke donations on behalf of followers. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other parties had been calling for this, but the government and ruling parties were cautious, saying it might infringe on the property rights of the follower.

In outlining the new law, the government presented its plan to introduce a mechanism that would allow family members to revoke followers’ donations in order to preserve funds for child support and other payments.

The Civil Code stipulates an “obligee’s right of subrogation,” whereby a creditor collects such items as sales payments on behalf of a debtor, in order to preserve his or her own property. The government reportedly referred to this provision.

Ways to provide a wide range of remedies must be considered, while striving not to infringe on property rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The CDPJ and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) want a ceiling established on the amount of donations, such as “one quarter of a person’s annual disposable income.” Wouldn’t such a rule let religious organizations ascertain the income of their followers?

Separate from the new law, the government has submitted to the Diet a bill to revise the Consumer Contract Law to extend to a maximum of 10 years the period in which contracts formed as a result of spiritual sales tactics can be revoked. The extension would be applied retrospectively to contracts for which the statute of limitations has not run out.

If realized, this would expand the range of victims who can be helped. The government and the ruling and opposition parties must cooperate to establish legislative measures as soon as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 20, 2022)