State eyes court order to dissolve the Unification Church

The Asahi Shimbun/September 3, 2023

A building housing the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
The government plans to seek a court order to dissolve the Unification Church as early as mid-October following an investigation into the group’s activities triggered by the murder last year of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It also plans to call on the Tokyo District Court to levy a fine against the group’s representative director within days as the organization, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, failed to answer numerous questions related to the church’s alleged shady business practices, government sources said.

In taking this step Prime Minister Fumio Kishida wants to demonstrate that the government is making a clean break with the Unification Church following a public uproar over its ties to ruling party lawmakers.

The church has demanded massive financial donations from followers, with no regard to the family misery that can result.

The Religious Corporations Law says a court can issue a dissolution order if a religious corporation commits an “act in violation of laws and regulations that is clearly recognized as being substantially detrimental to public welfare.”

The government concluded that a dissolution order is merited in this case because the Unification Church engaged in “vicious, organized and continued” activities that outweighed arguments about freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution, the sources said.

They said the decision to seek to disband the church was based on testimony from former church followers who made donations, court rulings in civil lawsuits that ordered damage payments to the organization and records submitted by the church.

The government started investigating the Unification Church following renewed public attention over the issue of donations in the aftermath of Abe’s shooting death in July 2022. The suspect in the slaying told investigators that his mother’s donations to the organization ruined his family. He also blamed Abe for promoting the church.

The education ministry exercised its right to question a religious corporation based on provisions of the Religious Corporations Law and did so on seven occasions between last November and July.

It sought detailed information about the donations, the church’s operating budget, records on its finances and assets, as well as its organizational operation.

The church’s reply to the seventh set of questions arrived in late August. The government does not intend to question the church again, the sources said.

It now plans to call on the Tokyo District Court to issue a dissolution order after convening a meeting of the Council on Religious Corporations.

The court will hear from both the education ministry and the Unification Church in closed-door sessions and issue a decision.

Either party that disagrees with the decision can appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Unification Church has argued that a dissolution order is not warranted because the matter of donations is no longer a major social issue.

It said the number of times the church was taken to court over donations has substantially decreased after the organization issued a legal compliance declaration in 2009.

Prior to seeking a dissolution order, the government will ask the Tokyo District Court in early September to impose a fine based on the Religious Corporations Law following a council meeting. The maximum amount is 100,000 yen ($688).

It will be the first government request for a fine over the right to question a religious corporation based on the law.

Two registered religious organizations, the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult responsible for deadly sarin attacks in Tokyo in 1995 and the Myokakuji temple group, received dissolution orders over violations of laws and regulations.

Both cases went to the Supreme Court. It took seven months for the order to Aum Shinrikyo to be finalized and about three years for the one for Myokakuji.

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