November 9, 2022
TOKYO – In preparation for an investigation into the religious group widely known as the Unification Church, draft standards for exercising the government’s “right to ask questions” were approved Tuesday by an expert panel.
The Cultural Affairs Agency, which oversees religious organizations, will finalize the standards and begin formulating questions to ask the group.
Tetsuo Goda, a deputy chief of the agency, presented the draft to the 19-member panel of religious leaders and other experts during its second meeting.
Under the Religious Corporations Law, a court can order a religious group to dissolve at the request of the government or relevant authorities if any act such as one that is “clearly found to harm public welfare substantially” or that “deviates substantially from the purpose of a religious organization” is confirmed.
The law also gives the government and relevant authorities the right to request reports from and question a religious corporation.
The draft suggests that the government can exercise the right only when there is objective evidence of “widespread damage or significant impact” stemming from repeated illegal acts by members of a religious group.
In the case of the Unification Church, which is officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the government is considering exercising the right to ask questions on the grounds of alleged illegal acts.
The agency’s draft presents examples of illegal acts that “harm public welfare substantially,” such as when members of a religious group repeatedly commit a significant number of violations or the damage caused by the act is serious.
It then defines the situation as one where “there is a suspicion of widespread damage or significant impact having occurred due to an illegal act.”
As for the basis for determining that there is “suspicion,” the agency said it should not be solely based on “rumors or the arguments of one party,” but should fall under any of the following three categories: a public institution has recognized the illegal acts or legal responsibility; specific materials or evidence-based information have been submitted to a public institution; or there are objective materials or grounds similar to evidence-based information.
The government can exercise the right to ask questions by law in relation to an act that “deviates substantially from the purpose of a religious organization.” Whether this right can be exercised is judged based on objective evidence after holistically examining the consequences of the act, the nature of its effects, and the motive for the act.
After the standards will be finalized, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka will consult with her ministry’s Religious Corporations Council on the content of and reasons for the questions. After gaining the council’s approval, the government will begin investigating the Unification Church by the end of the year. Based on the answers it receives, the government will decide whether to request a court order to dissolve the religious group.