Japan prime minister orders investigation of Unification Church

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Monday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday instructed Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka to conduct a legal investigation of the Unification Church, to determine if it is appropriate to request a court order to dissolve the religious group.

Kishida met Nagaoka at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday morning, along with Consumer Affairs and Food Safety Minister Taro Kono and Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi.

The government will use its “right to ask questions” under the Religious Corporations Law to look into the operations and management of the group — officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — before deciding whether to request an order for dissolution.

This will be the first time for the government to exercise the right with regard to a religious organization.

“The prime minister wants us to investigate the situation properly,” Nagaoka told reporters. “We will implement procedures so that the order can be enforced steadily.”

At the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Monday morning, Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masahisa Miyazaki asked why the probe had been launched.

Kishida responded that the government “found examples of civil court cases in which the court had judged the corporation to have systematic responsibility for tort.”

Kishida also said more than 1,700 calls regarding trouble with the religious group had been received by a telephone consultation service launched jointly by several ministries and police.

Prior to the investigation, Nagaoka will seek advice from the ministry’s 19-member Religious Juridical Persons Council on how to conduct the probe.

If violations of laws or regulations are confirmed through the investigation, authorities concerned may request a court order to dissolve the religious group. If the court orders dissolution, the Unification Church would be stripped of its status, which brings tax benefits.

Only two religious corporations, including the Aum Supreme Truth cult, have so far been ordered to dissolve because of their actions. In both cases, criminal charges were brought against the groups’ executives.

In response to a question from a House of Councillors lawmaker on Oct. 6, Kishida said a dissolution order “is an extremely serious case of removing corporate status, and careful judgment based on precedents is necessary from the perspective of guaranteeing freedom of religion.”

A civil court ruling found the Unification Church to have engaged in systematic illegal activities, such as those involving the solicitation of donations.

There are also reports of harm from its practice of selling “spiritual” items.

The government plans to establish a dedicated unit within the Japan Legal Support Center in November at the earliest to strengthen its consultation system.