Education minister signed Unification Church-supporting document

Kyodo News/February 7, 2024

Education minister Masahito Moriyama, who also has religious affairs within his ministerial portfolio, admitted Wednesday to signing a document pledging support for issues championed by the Unification Church ahead of the October 2021 general election.

At a parliamentary session, Moriyama said, "I think I may have signed the document without sufficiently checking its contents, but I don't remember very well," after a major newspaper reported his ties with the controversial religious group.

The daily Asahi Shimbun said the document from a group affiliated with the Unification Church asked for support for political policies the group has promoted, and signing it is believed to have been a condition of receiving a letter of endorsement from the church for the election.

The remarks by Moriyama, who assumed his current post in September 2023, came a day after he acknowledged he had received the letter from the affiliate group, officially known as the Federation for World Peace, in the run-up to the election, as reported by the newspaper which obtained an image of the endorsement letter.

Citing unnamed sources, the Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday that Moriyama signed the document at a gathering of the affiliated group in his home constituency of Kobe, shortly before the official campaign for the House of Representatives election began.

Political experts said Moriyama's connection with the Unification Church could pose a conflict of interest as his purview includes oversight of the organization, which has been criticized for its aggressive fundraising and other exploitative practices.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, however, repeatedly rejected calls from opposition parties to replace Moriyama, saying at the session that he appointed Cabinet members under the condition that they no longer have any relations with the Unification Church.

In October 2022, Daishiro Yamagiwa, who served as economic minister under the Kishida administration, was forced out of the Cabinet after a series of revelations about his ties with the Unification Church.

At a news conference on Wednesday, meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said he met with individuals related to the Unification Church in his local office in Yamaguchi Prefecture in September 2021.

But the top government spokesman added he has not been offered donations or support for election campaigns.

Amid growing criticism of the organization in the wake of the shooting death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Kishida's government filed a request with a court in October for an order to deprive the Unification Church of its religious corporation status and associated tax benefits.

The Unification Church came under scrutiny in Japan after Abe was killed in July 2022 by Tetsuya Yamagami, whose mother made massive donations to the group that were ruinous for his family.

In the wake of Abe's assassination, links between many lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Kishida, and the Unification Church have been revealed, raising concerns about the religious organization's influence on politics in Japan.

Several LDP lawmakers have admitted that they have signed a policy document with the Unification Church, founded by a staunch anti-communist in South Korea in 1954, around the time of elections.

The Unification Church has advocated policies such as amending the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution and maintaining cautious stances on issues surrounding sexual minorities and same-sex marriage.

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