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Over 37,000 sign petition urging freedom of belief for Unification Church followers' kids

An image used for the petition and hashtag calling for freedom of religion for "shukyo nisei," or children of parents who have joined a religious group, is seen. (Photo courtesy of Chang.org)

OSAKA -- A petition calling for freedom of belief for children of parents who have joined the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification -- better known as the Unification Church -- is underway online.

    The petition is intended to draw attention to the problem of children suffering because of their parents' spiritual beliefs.

    Family members of people such as those who have repeatedly made large donations to the Unification Church have begun to raise their voices in the wake of the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The suspect in that case has said he held a grudge against the religious group.

    The hashtag promoting freedom of religion for "shukyo nisei," meaning children of those who have joined a religious group, was launched by one such person active on social media under the pseudonym Miyuki Takahashi.

    Takahashi's parents are Unification Church followers, and got married in a mass wedding in which the group pairs up strangers. Takahashi was taught the group's doctrines from an early age, and grew up in poverty because their parents kept making donations. Takahashi was once forced to break up with a person they were dating because of the church's prohibition against freely chosen romantic relationships. Takahashi was even forced to fast as punishment.

    Takahashi apparently has heard of cases in which parents became so absorbed in their faith that they neglect their children. In the petition, Takahashi calls for laws to ban parents from forcing their children to participate in religious activities and recognizing violation of religious freedom as a form of abuse.

    The petition -- which can be viewed at https://change.org/shukyo2sei -- had garnered more than 37,000 signatures as of July 30. While stressing that the Abe assassination is "absolutely unforgivable," Takahashi said, "I don't want children to suffer anymore due to their parents' beliefs. I want society to acknowledge that it is too much (for followers' children) to solve on their own, and to improve the situation."

    The Unification Church told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We are aware that there are second-generation members who are complaining, and we're working hard to establish a consultation system by assigning people in charge of the issue to all our churches. Reflecting on our past excesses, such as so-called 'fortune telling fraud,' we don't forget to provide care, and we'll continue to make efforts not to inflict emotional scars."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Noguchi, Osaka City News Department)

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