Serious damage, suffering should not be left unaddressed

If a religious group has caused damage and suffering through such practices as so-called spiritual sales tactics, which involve cajoling people into buying items at expensive prices, and massive donations, it cannot be left unchecked. The actual nature of the group’s activities must be clarified, and its eligibility as a religious corporation must be strictly examined.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka has initiated an investigation into the Unification Church, exercising the government’s right to ask questions under the Religious Corporations Law. The minister has sent questions via mail to the religious group officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification regarding its property, income, spending and organizational operations. Dec. 9 is the deadline for a response.

Illegal acts committed by the Unification Church have been confirmed by courts in several civil cases. The government’s consultation hotline has received about 3,800 inquiries over about the past two months. It has also become clear that some parents have made large donations and their children have been living in poverty.

This is the first time the right to ask questions of a religious corporation has been exercised. Given the seriousness of the damage and suffering, the fact that the government has left the matter unaddressed must be questioned. The government must determine how organized and how malicious the relevant acts were, from the viewpoint of public welfare while taking into consideration the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution.

Nagaoka has not publicly disclosed the questions sent to the Unification Church. Without knowing how the organization responds to the various questions, the actual situation will not be clarified. The questions and answers need to be made public when the group submits its answers. The group should respond in good faith.

In the investigation, the government plans to hear from such individuals as former followers about the situation. To clarify the flow of donations, it is important for the Justice Ministry and other related organizations to cooperate and accumulate objective evidence.

In connection with the Unification Church, it has also been discovered that adoptions were repeatedly arranged among its followers. In some cases, the group is said to have mediated adoptions even before the birth of a child.

If this is true, the group can be accused of disregarding the human rights of children.

Unauthorized mediations of adoptions are prohibited. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Tokyo metropolitan government have sent a written inquiry to the organization’s headquarters. It is hoped that they will investigate and determine the actual situation and take the necessary measures.

At the Diet, the ruling and opposition parties are continuing discussions to establish legislation to support victims, but no agreement has been reached.

The government intends to introduce criminal penalties in the new law, taking into consideration the opposition parties’ arguments. It will also allow family members of followers to revoke donations on behalf of followers.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and others have protested that the government’s proposal does not provide sufficient support because it limits the scope of the revocation of donations to living costs and educational expenses for mainly children. However, simply clinging to one’s own position and criticizing others will not bring the debate to a conclusion.

The government and the ruling and opposition parties need to cooperate to establish the new law, placing the highest priority on support for victims and preventing recurrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 23, 2022)