Children of Unification Church Members Welcome Dissolution; Impacts on Religious Freedom Concerns

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tatsuo Hashida — whose former wife had been a member of the Unification Church — wipes his tears at a press conference at the Diet on Thursday.

Second-generation family members of followers of the scandal-plagued Unification Church have hailed the government’s decision to seek a court order to dissolve the organization. Some religious groups, however, have voiced concerns that the move could impinge on religious freedom.

“We’re finally standing on the start line,” said a woman in her 30s whose parents are members of the church, at a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday. “I hope society as a whole will deliver relief to the victims and continue to be strongly concerned about how the religious organization operates.”

The woman serves as vice president of a group addressing problems faced by second-generation family members of religious groups. She spoke after Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama announced that the government would ask the Tokyo District Court to order the dissolution of the organization, which is formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The group offers support and advice to second-generation family members, and it reportedly still receives many complaints from people who are “struggling to get by” and “want to die” after family members made large donations to the church.

“Seeking a court order to dissolve the organization hasn’t resolved all the problems. I want the government to establish a framework that can extend a helping hand to people who are in distress,” the woman said.

The government’s decision was also welcomed by Tatsuo Hashida, whose former wife is a follower of the Unification Church. She made large donations to the group which wrecked their family and reportedly led to their oldest son taking his own life. “I’ve come this far while constantly thinking about my son,” said Hashida, 65, from Kochi Prefecture. “I’m just so grateful” that the government has taken this step.

Mixed reaction

The government’s decision drew a mixed reaction in religious circles.

Kyoto-based Honmon Butsuryu-shu — a Nichiren-related Buddhism sect — said the decision was “unavoidable,” adding that obeying the law was the duty of the people, and freedom of religion would be accepted when that was done.

Reiyukai, a Buddhist organization headquartered in Tokyo, also said the government’s decision was “reasonable, provided it had been based on objective evidence.” Reiyukai added that the government’s step “would lead to the protection of religious liberty.”

However, Seicho-no-ie, a religious group based in Yamanashi Prefecture, said: “A dissolution order would deny followers of their faith and could lead to the loss of places of faith. We are deeply concerned that expanding the application of this system could violate the freedom of religion.”

‘Big step’ forward

Lawyers from Across Japan for the Victims of the Unification Church, a group of lawyers that had helped the Cultural Affairs Agency with an investigation into the church, issued a statement Thursday. It described the government’s move as a “big step toward providing relief for all the victims and preventing future harm.”

“That religious group should seriously accept the decision that it conducted illegal solicitation and donation collection activities over many years,” the lawyers’ group added.