Japan to Seek Dissolution Order Against Unification Church; Move Would End Group’s Religious Tax Exemption (Update 2)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama speaks at a meeting of the Religious Juridical Persons Council, an advisory panel, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Thursday.

The government has decided to ask the Tokyo District Court to order the dissolution of the scandal-plagued Unification Church under the Religious Corporations Law.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama made the announcement Thursday. The request for a dissolution order could be filed as early as Friday.

“I would like to immediately file a request for a dissolution order with the Tokyo District Court as soon as we’re ready tomorrow or later,” Moriyama said at a Thursday press conference after a meeting of the Religious Juridical Persons Council, an advisory panel to the education minister on the issue. He emphasized that “the panel’s unanimous opinion was that it was appropriate to request a dissolution order.”

If a dissolution order is issued and finalized, the Unification Church will lose its status as a religious corporation. In that case, it would be able to continue its activities as a voluntary organization, but no longer receive tax benefits such as tax exemption on income from religious activities.

The ministry has concluded that certain activities conducted by the religious group — formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — violate laws and regulations with regard to such issues as receiving large donations from followers.

The government’s planned request for a dissolution order comes after careful scrutiny of reports received from the group itself, and testimonies of former members.

The education ministry, exercising its right to question a religious group based on the law, has requested reports from the Unification Church on over 600 topics, including how the group is run and the actual situation of donations, on seven occasions since November of last year. At the same time, the ministry has been conducting interviews with over 170 people including former followers who made large donations.

Article 81 of the Religious Corporations Law states that a court can issue a dissolution order if, “in violation of laws and regulations, the religious corporation commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially.”

The government has expressed the view that even if a criminal case has not been filed against the group, the requirements for a dissolution order are met if it is confirmed that it has engaged in “systematic, malicious and continuous” illegal acts under the Civil Code.

The court will hear the request from the government behind closed doors, and if it considers the request to be reasonable, it will issue a dissolution order. If the group objects to the order, it can appeal to a higher court and take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.