Changing the Law: Spotlight on Judicial Decisions Concerning Japanese Government’s Right to Ask Questions
By editorial department of Sekai Nippo
12th September 2023 – Published as an editorial in the Japanese newspaper Sekai Nippo. Republished with permission. Translated from Japanese. Original article
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has decided to impose administrative penalties on the grounds that the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Family Federation) did not answer questions based on the “Report and Questions” of the Religious Corporations Law, and decided to proceed to the Tokyo District Court.
The Family Federation issued a statement claiming that it “sincerely responded to questions from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) every time while protecting the privacy and religious freedom of believers.”
Due to partial non-response
This is the first time that the right to question a religious corporation has been exercised, and if a religious corporation refuses to answer or gives a false answer when asked a question, a fine of up to 100,000 yen may be imposed on the representative officer of the religious corporation. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) said that it had asked the Family Federation 500 questions, and the reason for the fine was that it did not answer about 100 items.
It is believed that the faith society answered about 80% of the questions, but the specifics of the questions, the content of the answers, and the details of the contents that were not answered, have not been made public. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has exercised the “right to report and ask questions” seven times, but it is safe to assume that the decision to ask for a fine was intended to accumulate evidence for the dissolution order from the beginning, contrary to the initial “prudent judgment”.
Originally, it cannot be said that the exercise of the right to question the Family Federation was carried out in a calm discussion. After the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last July due to a grudge against the faith society, criticism of troubles surrounding the faith society swept the media. Furthermore, with regard to election campaigns and religious votes, the opposition parties raised the issue of “points of contact” with the LDP.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida declared a break with religious groups, and the Diet passed the Act on Prevention of Unreasonable Solicitation of Donations (Victim Relief Law) as a measure to deal with donation troubles. In addition, regarding the legal interpretation of “violation of laws and regulations” – a requirement for requesting a dissolution order for a religious corporation, as a “criminal penalty”, based on a Supreme Court judgment – the prime minister replied to the Diet that civil law torts also belong to this category. The prime minister changed the legal interpretation overnight.
Prior to this change in interpretation, the Religious Affairs Division of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) replied that the Family Federation was “not subject to a request for a dissolution order”, but later exercised its right to question the Family Federation in an attempt to bring the request for a dissolution order. Overseas human rights groups and religious officials are concerned that this move could lead to serious religious persecution.
In response to some media outlets reporting on the “penal fine policy” of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the religious group issued a statement stating that “if a court case over the fine against the corporation is pending in the future, the corporation will do everything it can to contest the legality of the exercise itself of the right to question.” Criticism and debate are natural as former believers and family members have come forward to complain of damage, but the religious freedom and privacy of believers who continue to practice the faith should also be considered.
Relationship with religion questioned
The hurdle to exercising the right to question was lowered to “civil,” and political power over religion was expanded. It will be necessary to pay close attention to how the right to question religious corporations will be exercised for the first time, and how the court proceedings will unfold over the fines required by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in order to determine how the basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the administrative power should be protected.
“Government Changing the Law Overnight” – text: Editorial Department of the Sekai Nippo, Tokyo, Japan.
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Background to changing the law: