• Yomiuri Editorial

Law to Rescue Unification Church Victims: Thoroughly Monitor the Religious Group’s Assets

It is significant that the ruling and opposition parties have come to a compromise to prioritize relief for victims of the Unification Church, formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. Based on this legislation, the government must strengthen its monitoring of the religious group’s assets.

Lawmaker-initiated legislation was enacted both to support the cost of civil lawsuits with the aim of helping victims of the Unification Church and to strengthen the monitoring of the religious group’s assets. A bill to establish special measures in the Religious Corporations Law and other legislation was jointly submitted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner Komeito, and the opposition Democratic Party for the People. It was amended through negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties.

The relief law stipulates that when victims file lawsuits against religious corporations for which dissolution orders have been requested, the Japan Legal Support Center would temporarily pay the costs on their behalf. For victims in need, exemption from repayment would also be granted.

In many cases, victims of the Unification Church continue to donate large sums of money and therefore are in difficult financial circumstances.

The LDP administrations have long overlooked the antisocial activities of the religious group, such as so-called spiritual sales. Given this background, it can be said to be appropriate to assist victims with their legal fees.

The relief law also requires religious corporations that have been named in a government request for a dissolution order to notify the government in advance of any sale of their real estate. It also includes a requirement that financial documents describing all assets, including cash, be submitted every three months.

The measures are intended to check whether religious corporations have moved their assets.

In October, the government filed a request with the Tokyo District Court for an order to dissolve the Unification Church. The religious group is prepared to fight the case, and many believe that the trial will be protracted. The victims’ lawyers’ team claims that the religious group could be concealing its assets by transferring them overseas during the trial.

The assets of the Unification Church would be the source of relief for victims. Providing adequate compensation will become difficult if assets are dissipated. The religious group must not be allowed to sell its assets without permission.

Initially, there was a gap in the assertions for the relief legislation between the ruling and opposition parties.

The largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) had jointly submitted another bill that would allow a court to issue an order to freeze assets of a religious corporation at the request of the central and prefectural governments when a dissolution order is requested.

The LDP had opposed the CDPJ-Ishin bill, saying that freezing the assets of a religious corporation before the dissolution order is finalized could infringe on the property rights guaranteed by the Constitution and threaten freedom of religion.

As a result of negotiations to amend the legislation, the parties reached a consensus to stipulate in the relief law a supplementary provision that calls for discussions within three years about the proper way to preserve assets.

According to the lawyers’ team, the total amount of damages, including large sums of donations to the Unification Church, is estimated at ¥120 billion. It is hoped that as many victims as possible will be helped.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 14, 2023)