Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration will be tested on how seriously it investigates the Unification Church in the days and months ahead.
The religious group, now officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has come under heavy public criticism for its “spiritual sales” and donation-raising tactics.
The administration must work effectively to block similar practices and bring relief to the victims.
In a report published on October 17, a group of experts from the Consumer Agency recommended that the government review its policy towards the church as well as the relevant laws and regulations.
Attention focused on how far the panel would go on the subject of seeking a court order for the dissolution of the church.
A dissolution order is exclusively secular in nature, but comes with serious consequences, including the removal of a group’s religious corporate status.
Caution should be exercised with regard to decisions relating to such orders as freedom of religion must be guaranteed.
The panel’s recommendation, however, highlighted suspicions that the Unification Church, as a religious society, has “violated laws and regulations” and committed “acts that have been clearly shown to harm considerably to the public welfare. Such actions are grounds for seeking a dissolution order, the panel said.
The argument is partly based on several court rulings in civil lawsuits that found the church had committed “organized unlawful acts.”
The panel said authorities should investigate the Unification Church by requesting reports or interviewing church officials, in preparation for a possible request for dissolution.
The Panel has reached the appropriate conclusion based on the facts available.
To keep pace with the recommendation, Kishida told the Diet he would “take steps” towards a prospective investigation. Officials said the government plans to open the investigation by the end of the year.
Investigators should listen to expert advice when scrutinizing the issue, but they should also avoid wasting time.
The Cultural Affairs Agency, which oversees religious societies, has so far taken a negative stance on the request for a church dissolution order, saying no leader of the group has been found guilty in the process. a criminal case.
But the Supreme Court has never provided an interpretation that “violation of laws and regulations,” which is grounds for a dissolution order, should be limited to offenses under criminal law.
The authorities should gather all relevant information and evidence and present convincing investigative results on the Unification Church.
The panel discussions also highlighted flaws in consumer contract law.
Four years ago, a provision was added to the law to give consumers the right to cancel contracts related to spiritual sales.
But the layout is inconvenient to use. It can only be applied if the consumers were informed that they would suffer serious disadvantages if they did not conclude the contract.
The panel recommended broader eligibility to use the provision as well as an extended time frame for exercising the right to rescind. The provision should be revised accordingly.
The majority of financial disputes surrounding the Unification Church now concern donations.
Children and other family members of churchgoers felt compelled to raise funds for the organization or were psychologically pushed into a corner.
The panel called for discussions on legislation that would allow the cancellation of donations made to groups that disguise their identity while doing missionary work.
Legal provisions should also be in place to prohibit donations from people who cannot make rational decisions or do not act of their own free will, the panel said.
Such measures would block damage in the early stages.
But the enactment of such legislation would not bring immediate relief to those currently suffering.
The government should improve its counseling services for victims of the Unification Church and do everything possible to provide assistance to similar people.
The government has a responsibility to make up for how it has left the church problem unattended for so long.
–The Asahi Shimbun, October 18