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Editorial: Japan gov't probe of Unification Church must expose truth, spur decisive action

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has instructed Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka to launch an investigation into the Unification Church, formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The probe, to be conducted in accordance with the Religious Corporations Act, must expose the reality of the damage wrought by the church, and strict action must be taken based on its findings.

    The Unification Church has invited controversy since the 1980s for its "spiritual sales" -- selling items purported to bring spiritual benefits -- and extracting large donations from believers.

    Under the investigation, the culture ministry -- which has jurisdiction over religious corporations -- and prefectural governments will request the church to furnish reports on its management and operation, and question church figures.

    The ministry and the prefectures have the right to perform such an investigation when there are credible suspicions that "in violation of laws and regulations, the religious corporation commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare." However, the Unification Church claims that it has never engaged in spiritual sales and that troubles with its donation system have been declining.

    Nevertheless, in recent years Japan has seen a string of judicial decisions recognizing the church's systematic misconduct. And the service set up by the government in September this year for consultations about the church has already fielded more than 1,700 queries. Kishida told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting that "we need to move forward with this process" for these reasons. Meanwhile, an expert panel at the Consumer Affairs Agency has also put together a report calling for the Unification Church to be investigated.

    But all this comes after years of reports on problems with the religious group -- problems the government had been hitherto reluctant to investigate. Criticism of the relationship between the church and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party reaches far and deep, and the Kishida Cabinet's approval rating keeps falling. The government was essentially compelled to confront the Unification Church problem.

    The legal basis for the investigation was incorporated into the Religious Corporations Act in a 1995 amendment in response to the AUM Shinrikyo cult's crimes, but there has never actually been such a probe. The authorities urgently need to create the means and methods for conducting one. The culture ministry plans to study basic investigation concepts and standards after establishing an expert committee.

    The probe will be conducted with a view to requesting a court order for the Unification Church's Japanese religious corporation's dissolution. Stripping the church of its religious corporation status could hinder its activities.

    The freedom of religion guaranteed by Japan's Constitution must be respected to the fullest extent. Nevertheless, organizations must not engage in any conduct detrimental to public welfare.

    The consequences of the Unification Church's activities in Japan have been exposed, including poverty and family breakdowns caused by members donating far beyond what they could afford. Measures to address this damage must also be taken as soon as possible.

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