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Japan’s Unification Church slams dissolution move

The government move is completely out of line and amounts to death penalty, church leaders say
The logo of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), known as the Unification Church, is seen at the entrance of its Japan branch headquarters in Tokyo on Oct. 13

The logo of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), known as the Unification Church, is seen at the entrance of its Japan branch headquarters in Tokyo on Oct. 13. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 17, 2023 11:58 AM GMT
Updated: October 18, 2023 06:24 AM GMT

Japan’s controversial Unification Church has criticized the government asking a court to de-recognize the church as a religious corporation and called the move “death penalty.”

During a press conference on Oct. 16 at Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, the church officials alleged the move by Fumio Kishida government was “completely out of line” as it violates the church's rights as a religious entity, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Nobuya Fukumoto, a lawyer for the church, alleged that the government’s interpretation of the Religious Corporations Law was flawed.

“The biggest point of contention lies in the government’s interpretation of dissolution requirements stipulated in the Religious Corporations Law,” Fukumoto said.

Along with Nobuo Okamura, head of the legal affairs bureau of the church, Fukumoto reiterated the church's stand that no dubious financial practices had occurred, and it would “fully challenge” the government’s allegations.

The church’s reaction came after Japan’s education ministry on Oct. 13, submitted a request at the Tokyo District Court seeking the dissolution of the church and removal of its approval as a religious corporation.

Officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the religious group was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon.

The church, whose members are colloquially known as "Moonies," rose to global prominence in the 1970s and '80s.

Japan’s 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 church has been accused of pressuring its followers into making hefty donations, and its members have been blamed for child neglect.

Reports say that these large donations resulted in misery for the families of the church members.

The church came under heavy scrutiny after Tetsuya Yamagami shot and killed Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8 last year.

Yamagami reportedly told the investigators that he targeted Abe for his ties to the church. He also alleged that he and his family faced economic hardships after his mother made hefty donations to the church that bankrupted the family.

The assassination also exposed conservative Japanese politicians’ ties with the church, leading to the resignation of four ministers of the Kishida government.

The government's decision to seek to disband the church was based on testimony from former church followers who made donations. Court rulings in civil lawsuits also ordered damage payments to the organization, reports say.

Okamura categorically denied the government’s allegations that followers continued to be harmed through hefty donations after the organization issued a compliance declaration in 2009.

“The fact that complaints have decreased by 90 percent is based on data. We cannot respond to (the government’s claim) as there are no specific documents,” Okamura said.

Okamura also denied allegations that the church had issued a manual on collecting donations, indicating a systemic approach to gaining funds.

“We have not been able to confirm any manual created by the church,” Okamura said.

Okamura also denied church involvement in the “spiritual sales” and excessive donation activities carried out by the church’s affiliated companies and followers.

“The church is by no means obligated to take responsibility,” Okamura said.

Meanwhile, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales as well as victims of the church voiced their fear that the church might transfer all its assets to its headquarters located in South Korea, a possibility which the church denied.

“We are responding to all requests for refunds, including those from collective bargaining by the lawyers’ association,” Okamura said.

Until now, two religious organizations have been handed dissolution orders for violation of religious corporation law.

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.

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