Dangerous precedent set as Japanese government follows in steps of faith-breakers
An explanation by Nobuo Okamura, Director General of the Legal Affairs Department of the Family Federation of Japan, as a comment on issues related to the Japanese government’s request to Tokyo District Court on 13th October to issue a dissolution order for the Family Federation of Japan. The explanation was given at a press conference 16th Oct. 2023 at the national headquarters of the Family Federation in Shibuya, Tokyo. The press conference was attended by most major Japanese news outlets.
Thank you for coming to the Family Federation today and participating in this press conference. First of all, I, Nobuo Okamura, Director General of the Legal Affairs Department, would like to talk about our corporation‘s views on the request for a dissolution order by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, especially from a legal perspective.
I am sure that our President Tomihiro Tanaka will eventually have the opportunity to speak as well, but today I will talk on such matters together with Attorney Fukumoto.
On 13th October, the Japanese Government requested a court order to dissolve the corporation. We, the Family Federation and all members of the Church nationwide, are very disappointed and deplore this.
We deeply regret that we have not been able to adequately convey a true picture of ourselves to the Japanese Government and to the Japanese society as a whole.
A dangerous precedent
In response to this request for a dissolution order, 12 NGOs from around the world, in particular NGOs that advocate the defense of religious freedom, have issued a statement where they strongly express their concern that this request for dissolution of a religious corporation may lead Japan out of the ranks of democracies and turn it into a totalitarian state like China or the Soviet Union.
We have in addition expressed our concern in the material distributed today that this could set a precedent for the government to be able to crush groups and religious organisations that it decides to go for.
Former Prime Minister Abe was assassinated last year, and as intended by the perpetrator, the church was ordered to be disbanded. From now on, our role is to present our arguments in court and hope that the court itself will serve as a guardian of democracy.
We, the Family Federation of Japan, since we were certified by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government 15th July 1964, have worked on evangelism, education of believers, worship and other ceremonial events as stipulated in the Religious Corporations Act and in our own statutes.
Reform since 2009
During those years, we have received various forms of criticism, but especially since 2009, when we issued a Declaration of Compliance, we have made efforts to place particular emphasis on compliance in our religious activities.
As a result, we have only had four civil court cases since 2009. And the number of court cases within the last seven years or so is zero. That is the first point.
Secondly, refund claims have also decreased significantly, by 90% if you compare figures before and after 2009.
Thirdly, the number of complaints to the Consumer Affairs Agency has also decreased significantly in recent years. In a Consumer Law News article in July last year, even our critic, lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi, said that the number of refund claims against the Family Federation has decreased in recent years.
Since last year, we have also made this Declaration of Compliance even more thorough and created a Special Committee for Reform of the Federation and have started implementing four initiatives of reform.
Firstly, when accepting donations, we make sure that a donation will not make life difficult for the family, and that donations are not made by borrowing money.
Secondly, we provide thorough guidance to ensure that there is no solicitation of donations that deceive people about their ancestral connections.
In addition, we have also announced a policy to drastically reduce the amount of the budget for overseas missionary support and the amount of money sent overseas.
Fourthly, we have been actively responding to complaints and claims for refunds from believers. Although not visible to the public, a large number of people in our churches across the country respond to requests for refunds. We strive to respond to such inquiries patiently and sincerely.
The following is a summary of the results of these efforts.
For example, in the case of collective bargaining, we have conducted fact-finding investigations into the nearly 3 billion refund claims made by 124 people, and we have responded to 99 claimants as a result of our fact-finding investigations. According to our investigations, about one third of the amount claimed has actually been paid out, and we are waiting for the reply from the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (Zenkoku Benren).
Deplorable government action
In this way, we have made efforts concerning reforms of the Federation and have also made compliance-related efforts in order to gain as much understanding as possible from society. But the outcome of the government’s request for an order to dissolve the religious corporation is extremely deplorable and disappointing.
The older members are particularly disappointed by this outcome. However, also the second and third generation of members, the future leaders, have already been subjected to various persecution and attacks at their workplaces. There have been many reports of people being harassed or suffering damage based on hate in their daily life. We believe that the government’s request for a dissolution order creates a serious situation not only for religious freedom, but also for human rights.
14th October last year, Prime Minister Kishida, in what is called the Cabinet Question Paper, responded in writing to a question posed by a member of parliament as follows,
“With regard to Article 81(1)(i) and (ii) of the Religious Corporations Act, which stipulates the grounds for a dissolution order for religious organisations, it is necessary to determine the appropriateness based on the interpretation of the decision of the Tokyo High Court on 19th February 1995, because it was determined that the former Unification Church was not affected by Article 81(1)(i) and (ii), based on the said interpretation. Until now, no request for a dissolution order against the Unification Church has been made by the competent head, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.”
On 14th October last year, the Cabinet clearly stated in its written reply that a dissolution order was not applicable to the Family Federation, and that there is no legal basis for it.
The question is what influenced the Prime Minister to decide to suddenly change his answer on 19th October 2022. This was also referred to as a “sudden shift”.
Persuaded by hostile lawyers
On 11th October last year, National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales submitted a document called a public request. Based on that document, the network of lawyers persuaded the government that the Civil Code should also be included in the case, and that they should make a decision based on the systematic nature, malice and continuity of alleged civil offenses.
We have no choice but to believe that such a text was the trigger.
Biased Agency for Cultural Affairs
In addition, there are some details that lead us to believe that various decisions made by the Agency for Cultural Affairs are based on documents or witnesses from one of the parties.
For example, regarding the exercise of the right to ask questions, we received a notice of the right to ask questions on 1st October 2022. It states that the basis for the exercise of the right to ask questions is tort judgments in 22 civil cases.
That is true, but at the same time, in our response to this question, we also submitted 13 civil court decisions in which our corporation prevailed. There have also been court decisions in which it has been determined that believers have voluntarily given donations based on their faith. Therefore, our corporation is not obliged to return the donations. There is no mention of this in the notice, and there is no affirmation that it has been adopted as evidence.
We have also disclosed in this report that plaintiffs in civil trials have given various statements in court that are contrary to facts. The Agency for Cultural Affairs has not used any of this as a basis for its decision.
As you may already know, Prime Minister Kishida was said to have spent an hour and a half with three former believers, listening to their stories. The Agency for Cultural Affairs reportedly also have heard complaints of damage from former believers and a former second generation believer.
However, in order for people to judge what kind of religious organization we are, it’s necessary to listen to the stories of not only former believers, but also current second generation believers and other believers. However, the response [from the Agency for Cultural Affairs] was that they did not want to listen to or meet with us at all. We had to send the documents to them by post.
Furthermore, Article 81(1)(ii) of the Religious Corporations Act states that any act done for a purpose contrary to the purpose of a religious organisation is reason for dissolution. Aum Shinrikyo and another religious organisation have committed such acts as premeditated murder and fraud.
Kidnappings, confinement and verbal coercion used against believers
However, in the case of the Family Federation of Japan, it was the act of offering donations, the donations of believers, that was considered to be a problem.
This is a religious act. I don’t think you can say that it deviates from the purpose of religion.
From this point of view, we would have liked to have had the case judged more impartially or objectively.
Finally, the plaintiffs in the civil trials were originally persons who had been passionate about their church faith and had been involved in evangelism and fund-raising activities. In particular about 90% of the plaintiffs in the 22 cases had been abducted, confined, and forced to leave the church after being verbally pressed to do so.
These people were systematically coerced to leave the church completely for a certain period of time or to renounce their faith, even to the point of claiming the return of their donations to the church. Organised acts of kidnapping, confinement and verbal coercion were carried out.
The people who organized this were opposing pastors and faith-breakers. There are also stories that even lawyers went to the sites of faith-breaking. Those who left the church were then brought to court to claim damages against the church.
Originally, all of them had freely carried out activities in this church based on their faith, before leaving the group. Then they were forcibly detained in a locked room, and day in and day out they were told bad things about the church. They were not let out until they said they were quitting the church.
Traumatized victims of faith-breakers
The longest period of confinement someone had to suffer in this way, was 12 years and 5 months. He claimed for damages and was awarded more than 20 million yen.
4,300 former believers have been affected by this. And there are still some persons who suffer from mental trauma because of it. So this problem is not over yet. We have also mentioned this situation to the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
It is true that the plaintiffs tell a uniform or similar story in court, which is said to back up them following instructions given by a church manual, On the other hand, it could also mean that they were persuaded by the same tactics. I very much hope that you would take that into account.
Finally, as I said at the beginning, it is extremely unfortunate and deploring that this request for an order to return donations and for an order to dissolve the corporation have been made. We will continue to work in court based on facts and in the light of the law. With the cooperation of our lawyers, we will work to ensure that this corporation will continue to exist. We will also make every effort to gain the understanding of as many members of the public as possible. Thank you very much for coming here today.
Featured image above: Nobuo Okamua, Director General of the Legal Affairs Department of the Family Federation of Japan at press conference 16th October 2023. Photo: Screenshot from live transmission by FFWPU Japan.
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