Court Receives Govt’s Request to Dissolve Unification Church

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama speaks Friday at a press conference after requesting a dissolution order against Unification Church.

The Tokyo District Court on Friday received a government request to dissolve the scandal-plagued Unification Church.

The request was made under the Religious Corporations Law. It is the first time for a dissolution order to be requested, claiming unlawful conducts under the Civil Code.

A decision on the propriety of the government’s request — taken out due to large financial donations made by followers of the religious organization — is now down to the judiciary.

Along with the request, which was submitted by Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama, the ministry also submitted around 5,000 pieces of evidence, including victims’ testimonies and materials collected during the investigation.

Moriyama filed the request based on the unanimous opinion of the Religious Judicial Persons Council — the minister’s advisory body — which met Thursday and decreed that the request was appropriate.

After closely examining reports from the group and testimonies from former followers, the minister concluded that the church’s activities violated the law, making it subject to dissolution under the Religious Corporations Law.

“We will make all possible preparations [for the proceedings at the district court],” Moriyama said at a press conference held after submitting the request.

The district court will hear the case behind closed doors and will issue a dissolution order if it finds the request to be reasonable.

Both sides will be able to file an immediate appeal with the high court if they disagree with the district court’s decision. Thereafter, it would also be possible for both parties to file a special appeal with the Supreme Court by claiming that the high court’s decision violates the Constitution.

If the dissolution order becomes final, the Unification Church — formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — will be able to continue its activities as a voluntary organization, but will lose its status as a religious corporation and no longer be eligible for preferential tax treatment.

Article 81 of the Religious Corporations Law stipulates that a court may order the dissolution of a religious corporation if, for example, it “commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially… in violation of laws and regulations.” The government’s view is that illegal activities occurring “at an organizational level, with unscrupulous intent and on a continuing basis” meets the requirements for a court-ordered dissolution.

Dissolution orders based on violations of laws have only been issued on two previous occasions against the Aum Supreme Truth cult and Myokaku-ji temple. In both cases, a court found the organizations’ executives to be liable for crimes.

Since Unification Church executives have never been held criminally liable, a judicial decision on the matter will be a strong focus of attention. In the Aum-related case, the district court ordered the group’s dissolution four months after receiving the initial request.