The Japanese government has sought a court order to revoke the religious corporation status of the Unification Church, following a month-long probe into its controversial methods for soliciting donations. The group, established in South Korea in 1954, has faced renewed scrutiny following former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination last year. If the court rules in favor of the government, the group would forfeit its religious corporation status and associated tax benefits, but it would still be allowed to continue religious activities.
Education Minister Masahito Moriyama said that since fiscal 1980, many followers have experienced financial losses due to coercive donations and purchases of religious items. The total amount of financial damage is estimated to be about ¥20.4 billion, averaging about ¥13 million per person. Two religious organizations, Aum Shinrikyo and Myokakuji, have received court orders for legal violations, marking the first time such an order has been issued. The Cultural Affairs Agency’s expert panel deemed it appropriate, allowing Moriyama to make the final decision.
The Religious Corporations Act allows the government to revoke a group’s religious corporation status if it has a “substantial negative impact on public welfare.” The Unification Church’s practices in soliciting donations from followers have been scrutinized after the suspect in Abe’s killing blamed the group for his family’s financial ruin. Other followers have reported being pressured into buying expensive items from the church, fearing it could bring misfortune to their family members. The church has also faced civil lawsuits over large donations from followers.
The Japanese government has launched a probe into the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, a group that has been accused of using fear tactics to solicit donations. The group, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, refused to respond to over 100 of the 500 questions it received, mainly on the grounds of religious freedom.
The group called the government’s decision “extremely regrettable.” The government’s interpretation of the law changed last year amid rising criticism of the group, allowing the government to seek a court order to strip it of its religious corporation status based on civil cases, not just criminal ones.
The church, despite remaining unchanged, has been dubbed a “villain” by the government, accusing it of lacking legal grounds to initiate a probe. The group has submitted signatures from 53,499 followers, urging the government not to pursue a court order. If an actual order is issued, all assets, including real estate such as church worship facilities and training centres, will be confiscated and liquidated, resulting in a significant limitation on the freedom of religious activities for followers.