Universities taking steps to protect students from cults

The Mainichi Daily News, Japan/May 22, 2009

Universities, which in the past had been hesitant to violate students' freedom of religion, are now taking active steps to protect their students from religious cults.

Seeing no end to the number of new students who become involved in religious cults, student advisors at 45 universities across Japan have begun exchanging information through a mailing list on effective measures against cults.

In 2006, Osaka University found that 78 of its students were involved in three cults. In response, the school established a compulsory lecture targeted at new students about dealing with solicitations to join such groups. A lecture given on May 9 warned students of groups that may approach them under the pretext of inviting them to join clubs or participate in seminars and surveys, eventually forbidding them to socialize freely with others.

At Okayama University's entrance exams this spring, a group claiming to offer instructions on choosing courses after acceptance to the school was found distributing fliers to exam takers. The school subsequently made the decision to issue 1,000 arm bands for members of school sanctioned clubs and groups to wear so that new students would be able to distinguish them from non-legitimate organizations. Other efforts by universities include that by Chiba University, which has set up a cult consultation office to systematize counter-cult measures. Still other schools inform parents of students whose involvement with cults has been discovered, and others rescind official school approval of groups involved in cult-like activities.

Taro Takimoto, a Yokohama-based lawyer who is well-acquainted with cult-related issues, along with Kenji Kawashima, a professor of religious studies at Keisen University and Atsushi Yamatodani, a professor of health sciences at Osaka University, were among the driving forces behind the mailing list. Among its participants are officials from Osaka University, Okayama University, Chiba University, Hokkaido University and the University of Shizuoka. In cooperation with the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery and the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, this consortium of schools shares information obtained from former cult members and effective methods for dealing with students who have cult-related issues.

"If we neglect the cult problem, we will not only create problems for our schools but for our society as well," says Professor Yamatodani. "Universities have the responsibility of providing students with the most up-to-date information so that they themselves can make informed decisions."

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