Dissolution Request for Unification Church: Organization’s Antisocial Activities Unacceptable / Eligibility as Religious Corporation Questioned

Serious damage by so-called spiritual sales tactics and large-scale donations has become a social problem. Such vicious activities must be dealt with strictly.

The government intends to ask the Tokyo District Court to issue a dissolution order for the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The request was expected to come as early as Oct. 13.

Problems associated with the Unification Church — including dubious sales tactics and a coercive approach to monetary gifts — resurfaced last year following the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Continuing troubles

From November last year to August this year, a telephone consultation service established by the Japan Legal Support Center to deal with spiritual sales and related problems received 1,033 calls pertaining to the Unification Church.

In one case, a person was strongly pressed to join the religious group and was not allowed to leave for home until agreeing to make a financial donation. Furthermore, the individual in question took out subsequent loans to facilitate the donation of more than several million yen to the organization.

Under the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, there is no problem if religious organizations are established to share their respective doctrines. However, there is no reason to allow such organizations to demand unreasonably high donations or sell overpriced products under the guise of religious activities.

It is quite natural that the eligibility of a religious corporation, which receives preferential tax treatment, is strictly called into question.

The Unification Church strongly opposes the government’s request for the dissolution order.

In 2009, the organization declared its commitment to strictly adhere to laws and regulations in the wake of an incident in which its followers were charged in connection with spiritual sales. The group claims that few problems have arisen since then.

However, a group of lawyers working to offer relief to the victims says 140 people have suffered losses totaling more than ¥1.9 billion even since that declaration.

If the group’s high-pressure approach to donations and forcible solicitation of potential followers continues, these must not be overlooked. It is vital to clarify the present situation swiftly and pursue the responsibility, regardless of whether such actions result in criminal or civil cases.

Hereafter, the court will closely examine whether the religious group has partaken in unscrupulous activities.

The Religious Corporations Law stipulates that courts can order the dissolution of a religious corporation when “in violation of laws and regulations, [it] commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially.”

In the past, only two corporations — including the Aum Supreme Truth cult — have been hit with dissolution orders due to violating laws and ordinances. In both cases, senior members of these corporations were charged with criminality.

Proving organizational nature

On the other hand, a number of civil lawsuit rulings have acknowledged illegal activities conducted by the Unification Church. However, there have been no cases in which the group’s executive members have been charged over criminal incidents.

Last year, the government altered its interpretation of the law, stating that illegal activities occurring clearly at an organizational level, with unscrupulous intent and on a continuing basis, could meet the requirements for the government to seek a court-ordered dissolution, even in civil affairs.

During the court proceedings, the key will be how the government can objectively prove the malignity and other factors of the Unification Church, based on materials including victims’ statements and internal documents obtained by the state while exercising its right to question the group.

The religious group is expected to thoroughly refute the government’s request for dissolution, and it seems inevitable that the proceedings will become protracted.

If the dissolution order is finalized, the Unification Church will lose its status as a religious corporation as well as its preferential tax treatment. Nevertheless, the organization will be able to continue as a voluntary religious entity.

Meanwhile, questions continue to linger regarding the way the Cultural Affairs Agency — which has jurisdiction over religious corporations — has dealt with the issue.

Since November last year, the agency has, on seven occasions, exercised its legal right to question the Unification Church under the Religious Corporations Law, requesting reports on its operations, income and expenditures. However, the agency has not disclosed specific details regarding its questions.

The agency says that doing so could “hinder the probe.” However, now that the government has decided to seek a court order for the group’s dissolution, the agency should disclose the questions, and what the religious group answered or what it did not, and should make public at least the outline.

Problems relating to second- and third-generation family members whose parents are Unification Church followers are serious, too.

There have been numerous cases in which families have become impoverished and split due to excessive financial donations by parents, in addition to instances involving children being coerced into following the group’s doctrines.

Generational problem

Adoptions among Unification Church members for religious reasons also have come to light. Situations in which children’s human rights are disregarded cannot be tolerated.

It also has been learned that many Diet members among the ruling and opposition parties — including the Liberal Democratic Party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) — had ties with the Unification Church.

It is possible for any organization to reach out to politicians with the aim of realizing its own goals.

This time, as a result, the Unification Church seems to have harnessed legislators as billboards to justify its activities. In return, lawmakers likely expected that affiliation with the group would help attract election votes.

It is vital for political parties to take this matter seriously and work earnestly to extend help to the victims and second-generation family members.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 13, 2023)