The Unification Church, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has long been a subject of controversy in Japan. Founded in 1954 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in South Korea, the group is renowned globally for its mass weddings and has operated in Japan since 1964. Despite its claims of working towards the “dream of realization of world peace,” the church has faced significant scrutiny.
The Assassination of Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
The assassination of Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, in July 2022, brought the Unification Church’s activities into sharp focus. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, admitted to targeting Abe due to his perceived ties with the church. Furthermore, it was unveiled that Yamagami’s mother, a church member, had made large donations against her family’s wishes, leading to their bankruptcy.
The incident spurred an internal investigation by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, revealing that over 180 lawmakers had interactions with the church. This ranged from speaking engagements to receiving electoral support.
Governmental Scrutiny and Legal Action
Following these revelations, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Thursday the government’s intent to dissolve the Unification Church’s Japan branch. A focal point of concern was the church’s manipulative tactics over the decades, compelling members to make substantial financial contributions.
Minister in charge of education, culture, sports, science, and technology, Masahito Moriyama, noted:
- Many followers endured financial and psychological harm.
- The church consistently restricted members’ free decision-making.
- Donations and purchases were made under conditions inhibiting normal decision-making.
The government’s investigation found 32 court rulings awarding a cumulative 2.2 billion yen (approximately $14.7 million) in damages to 169 Unification Church victims.
The Church’s Defense
The Unification Church has been vocal in its opposition to the government’s move. In a statement, the church described the government’s decision as based on “unbalanced information from a left-leaning lawyers group.” Furthermore, the church submitted a petition signed by over 80,000 people opposing the dissolution. The group’s emphasis is on their unchanged mission since 1964, criticizing the media for demonizing them after the assassination.
Consequences and Precedents
If the Tokyo district court accepts the government’s request, the Unification Church will be stripped of its religious status. This loss entails the removal of property tax exemptions, forcing the disposal of assets. However, as per media reports, the church could continue its activities in a new format, allowing member recruitment and donation solicitations.
The implications of this decision are enormous, especially when considering historical precedents:
- Only two religious entities in Japan, including Aum Supreme Truth, have been dissolved by the court.
- Aum Supreme Truth was responsible for the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in 1995, causing 13 fatalities and injuring thousands.
The revelations post the assassination of Shinzo Abe and the subsequent probe into the Unification Church’s operations have triggered varied reactions from the Japanese public. While many sympathized with Tetsuya Yamagami and saw his actions as a tragic outcome of the church’s predatory donation demands, others have been cautious, urging a thorough investigation before jumping to conclusions.
Online platforms have been buzzing with debates and discussions, with former church members sharing their experiences. One anonymous ex-member stated, “This legal move has been a long time coming. However, this isn’t the end. We must ensure the court order is duly executed.”
The linkage of the Unification Church with Japan’s political circles, especially the Liberal Democratic Party, has instigated concerns over transparency and the influence of religious entities on Japanese politics. Lawmakers are now under increased pressure to disclose and sever any existing ties with the church and other similar organizations.
While the Unification Church has declared its commitment to preventing “excessive” member donations, the government’s year-long probe has unveiled a series of malicious and illegal activities. If the dissolution request is approved, this would mark a significant shift in the Japanese government’s stance against organizations deemed detrimental to public welfare.
To stay updated on the proceedings, visit Kyodo News Agency for regular updates and comprehensive coverage, which has been closely monitoring the unfolding events surrounding the Unification Church’s legal proceedings in Japan.