Government submits questions to Unification Church over allegations

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka explains the “right to ask questions” at a press conference Tuesday.

The government submitted questions Tuesday to the Unification Church at the start of its investigation into the group officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka told a press conference that the government would send a list of questions to the group and it would have until Dec. 9 to respond.

Based on the response, the government will decide whether to request a court order to dissolve the Unification Church.

The “right to ask questions” is a provision under the Religious Corporations Law that allows the government and relevant authorities to request reports from religious groups. The provision can be applied when a religious organization is suspected of violating certain regulations, but it has not been used since it came into force in 1996.

“We will ask [the Unification Church] to report on its rules and documents related to the group’s operation, as well as documents and books related to its income and property,” Nagaoka said. “We’ll uncover objective facts.”

Through the questioning, the government wants to ascertain the possibly systemic nature of several allegations against the group.

The government will scrutinize the submitted materials and replies, and ask further questions about suspected illegal acts, thereby examining potential wrongdoing and whether illicit acts have been continuing.

By law, representatives of a religious corporation can be fined up to ¥100,000 if the corporation makes false answers or fails to respond. The government can also enter a religious group’s facilities, with its consent, to conduct an investigation. A focus of the upcoming investigation is whether the Church is cooperative and provides sufficient answers.

Nagaoka received instructions from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Oct. 17 and began discussions over exercising the right to ask questions. On Nov. 8, the Cultural Affairs Agency sought advice from religious leaders and other experts and decided on criteria for exercising the right, which can be used when there is evidence of “widespread damage or significant impact” stemming from illegal acts by a religious group.

There are 22 court rulings regarding the Unification Church, two of which deemed that illegal acts had been committed systematically, and 20 of which found it liable as an employer under the Civil Code.

Consultation centers set up by the government to handle issues related to the church had received about 3,800 inquires as of Nov. 11.

Taking into account the rulings and other factors, Nagaoka deemed that the situation surrounding the Unification Church meets the agency’s criteria and decided to exercise the right to ask questions.

With support from the Justice Ministry and the National Tax Agency, the cultural agency prepared the list of questions. It was approved by the Religious Juridical Persons Council within the agency on Monday.

The government plans to seek a court order to dissolve the group if a court judges there were “systematic acts, intent to do wrong, and continuation” in the Church’s problematic actions.

The Unification Church told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the group would “reply in good faith to the wishes of the government and the cultural agency.”