• Yomiuri Editorial

Bills to Help Unification Church Victims: Parties Must Find Common Ground on Freezing Group’s Assets

Although there are differences in the content of lawmaker-initiated legislation proposed by the ruling and opposition parties, there may be no disagreement on the need to provide relief to victims who made large-sum donations. The parties should hold a series of discussions on possible amendments to find points of agreement and work toward the establishment of a law.

Deliberations have begun on different lawmaker-initiated bills submitted to the current Diet session by the ruling and opposition parties to offer relief to victims of the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

It has been pointed out that the Unification Church could be concealing its assets by selling real estate or moving funds overseas in preparation for the finalization of an expected dissolution order. How to prevent the dissipation of assets that would be used as the source of funds for compensation to the victims is an important issue.

One bill, proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner Komeito and the opposition Democratic Party for the People, is characterized by its emphasis on strengthening the monitoring of properties of a religious corporation that has been named in a government request for a dissolution order.

Specifically, the bill requires such a religious corporation to notify the government in advance of any sale of its real estate. Sales without notification would be considered invalid.

In addition, the annual submission of a property inventory, which is required by the current Religious Corporations Law, would be changed to every three months. The aim is to increase the frequency of monitoring by the government and allow it to keep track of changes in property.

Meanwhile, the other bill by the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, together with Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), includes a provision that would allow a court to issue an order to freeze real estate, cash and other assets of a religious corporation upon request by the central government or prefectural governors.

Both bills have their merits and demerits.

The bill by the three parties including the LDP and Komeito has a provision that when a victim files a lawsuit, the Japan Legal Support Center would temporarily pay the costs on their behalf, and if a victim has gone bankrupt because of religious contributions, the center would shoulder the legal costs.

The LDP administrations had long overlooked the malicious business practices of the Unification Church, such as so-called spiritual sales. Given this background, it is quite natural that victims would be provided financial support when they file lawsuits.

Meanwhile, with regard to measures to freeze assets of a religious organization — the essential point of this issue — can it be said that merely monitoring real estate will be sufficient? If the organization can dispose of cash freely, concerns will remain about whether such monitoring can definitely help victims.

Under the bill by the CDPJ and Ishin, a religious corporation would not be able to touch any of the assets subject to a requested freeze order, so the source of funds for compensation would be secured.

However, there are some who argue that the mandatory freezing of assets before the dissolution order is finalized could infringe on the freedom of religion and property rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Regarding the bill by the CDPJ and Ishin, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau has stated that “the freezing of assets would lead to restrictions on religious activities.”

What kind of provision would allow the administration of assets without infringing on property rights and freedom of religion? The government and the ruling and opposition parties must carefully discuss the scope of what is constitutionally acceptable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 29, 2023)