Hearing on Unification Church: Carefully Consider Whether Status as Religious Corporation Is Appropriate

Large donations and other issues related to the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, have caused much suffering and created a social problem. An impartial decision should be made as to whether it is appropriate for the organization to be a religious corporation.

The Tokyo District Court has held a hearing at which both the government and the Unification Church voiced their opinions regarding the government’s request for an order to dissolve the group. The church reportedly has shown it is prepared to fight the case tooth and nail.

The Religious Corporations Law stipulates that a court may order a religious corporation to dissolve when it finds that “in violation of laws and regulations, the religious corporation commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially.”

The government has argued that the group’s unscrupulous intent, systemic involvement and prolonged wrongdoing are clear. Key to the outcome of the case will be whether the government can prove that the group is a dangerous organization, based on statements from the victims and civil trial rulings that found the church committed illegal acts.

In accordance with a relevant law, the hearing was held behind closed doors. Although the government has not disclosed what opinions it expressed, this is an important trial for freedom of religion. The progress of the trial and the evidence presented should be made public.

Meanwhile at the Diet, opposition parties are pressing Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama over allegations that he received support from an organization affiliated with the Unification Church in the 2021 House of Representatives election.

Moriyama is alleged to have attended a policy report meeting organized by the affiliated group, to have received a letter of recommendation, and to have signed a document confirming the group’s recommendation of Moriyama, which constitutes a policy agreement.

Moriyama’s response in the Diet has been weak. His answers have changed constantly, from “I don’t recall” to “I may have signed it” and back to “I don’t remember,” giving the impression that he was lying.

However, Moriyama is the official who made the request for an order to dissolve the Unification Church. In addition, the government plans to soon require the church to submit a notification in advance when disposing of real estate. This is intended to make it more difficult for the church to move its assets overseas, as the assets can be used to provide relief to victims.

Setting aside whether Moriyama had ties to the organization, there are no suspicions that he is unfairly changing policies.

Some in the Liberal Democratic Party believe that the group is leaking information to the media in retaliation for the dissolution order request. This is based on the surfacing of information that appears to come from inside the group, including photographs of Moriyama taken with leaders of the group and testimony that Moriyama hugged a person related to the group.

Last year, a photo was leaked that shows another person with ties to the church present at a meeting of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at a time when Kishida was serving as the chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council. It is highly likely that someone from the group took the photo.

If the political situation were to plunge into chaos due to the manipulation of information, that would likely be just what the sources want.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2024)