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Tokyo, 15th November 2022 – Originally published as an article in the Japanese newspaper Sekai Nippo. Republished (with permission) now due to actuality. Translated from Japanese. Original article

Religion and Politics: The Injustice of Kono’s Investigation Committee Endorsed by National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales

Interview with Seishiro Sugihara, Professor Emeritus at Musashino Women’s University (武蔵野女子大)

by Editorial Department of Sekai Nippo, interviewer: Head of politics section Shigeki Takeda (武田滋樹)

Seishiro Sugihara
Professor emeritus Seishiro Sugihara. Photo: Sekai Nippo

The ruling and opposition parties are debating a damage relief bill and the use of the right to ask questions in order to request a dissolution order for the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church). Seishiro Sugihara (杉原誠四郎) points out that the separation of religion and politics is not properly understood in Japan. We asked him about current trends in the political world from the perspective of religion and politics.

– The exercise of the right to ask questions in order to request a dissolution order against the Family Federation and the contents of a relief bill for victims have become one of the focal points in the political arena.

The one who took the initiative was Taro Kono (河野太郎), the Minister in charge of Consumer Affairs. Immediately after taking office on 10th August 2022, he briskly launched the “Investigative Committee on Measures against Malicious Practices such as Spiritual Sales” (hereinafter referred to as the Investigative Committee) within the Consumer Affairs Agency. He submitted a report in time for the full-scale discussions in the House of Representatives Budget Committee on 17th October 2022, suggesting measures such as “the need to exercise the right to collect reports and ask questions based on Article 78-2 of the Religious Corporations Act, with a view to requesting the dissolution of the former Unification Church.”

– What is the problem with the so-called Kono Investigative Committee?

It’s riddled with problems, from the selection of its members to the way deliberations are conducted and the content of the report.

Since damage caused by the former Unification Church‘s spiritual sales methods has been pointed out, it is understandable if the Consumer Affairs Agency wants to investigate and remedy any damages, but in order to do so, it must objectively choose individuals.

However, like a Trojan horse, Minister Kono brought the following to serve as members of the government’s countermeasures Investigative Committee:

  • Masaki Kito (紀藤正樹), a lawyer from National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (全国霊感商法被害対策弁連 – Zenkoku benren), which aims to dissolve the former Unification Church;
  • Kimiaki Nishida (西田公昭), a professor at Rissho University and representative director of the Japan Anti-Cult Association;
  • Shiori Kanno
    Shiori Kanno in 2016. Photo: 首相官邸ホームページ / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int. Cropped

    Shiori Kanno (菅野志桜里), a lawyer who has been critical of the former Unification Church and has worked on spiritual sales issues during her time as an opposition lawmaker.

This is clearly not a fair appointment.

Masaki Kito
Masaki Kito, one of the hostile lawyers of National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (全国霊感商法被害対策弁連) and Nationwide Unification Church Damage Countermeasures Legal Team (全国統一教会被害対策弁護団). Photo: Screenshot / Bitter Winter

In reality, Masaki Kito and Shiori Kanno have led the discussions in the Investigative Committee. They invited lawyer Masaki Gouro (郷路征記) from National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales. For 35 years, he has kept suing the former Unification Church for damages. He was invited to give an explanation based on materials that even went into the details of the doctrine.

On the other hand, there has been no hearings on the objections or explanations from members of the former Unification Church at all. Furthermore, regarding the request for dissolution, which amounts to the deprivation of fundamental rights of religious corporations, there has been no attempt to seek opinions from impartial constitutional scholars, criminal law scholars, or religious scholars. It is highly unjust that such a deliberation is by an administrative agency. It poses significant issues concerning the rule of law and the fairness of the law.

– What is the content of the report?

Clearly, it is a proposal that is outside the jurisdiction of the Consumer Affairs Agency, and it is an act of overreach. At that time, it was the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales that argued that the former Unification Church deserved an order to dissolve, and only a portion of the media outlets reported the claim as it was. It had not been officially determined, and one could say it was only at the stage of suspicion.

Nonetheless, through its report, the Kono Investigative Committee gave the government’s endorsement to the claims of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales. This can be seen as a typical example of populist politics catering to the masses. It resulted in pouring oil on the fire of searching for “connections” between the Liberal Democratic Party and the former Unification Church, even plunging the Liberal Democratic Party into great confusion. This amounts to a serious negligence that could be called a political crime carried out by Minister Kono.

Symbol of MEXT
Symbol of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. Photo: 文部科学省 (MEXT Japan) / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida cannot ignore Kono’s proposal because it is a proposal of a government Investigative Committee that is headed by Kono’s ministry. It could be pursued by the Budget Committee as a “Cabinet disagreement.” In the end, on the day the report was submitted (17th October 2022), Kishida instructed the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to investigate the former Unification Church (exercising the right to ask questions).

The Prime Minister changed his interpretation to be in line with the recommendations of the report, stating that acts unlawful according to the Civil Code which were deemed not to satisfy the conditions for a dissolution request, were suddenly overnight interpreted as “potentially satisfying the conditions”, thus aligning with the suggestions of the report.

– The report also proposes to expand the scope of the right of revocation based on the theory of mind control in order to remedy the damage to victims of spiritual sales practices.

Mind control is a term used by non-believers to describe the state of mind of believers of a religion. It is too far-fetched to claim that donations and contributions based on faith, are made in “a state where rational judgment cannot be made” due to mind control. Why should only the state of faith of the former Unification Church be defined as mind control? If applied broadly to other religions, it would mean that all faith is mind control. This is an extreme and dangerous argument that threatens religious freedom.

Seishiro Sugihara was born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1941. He completed his master’s degree program at the Graduate School of Education, University of Tokyo in 1967. He has served as professor at Josai University [private university in Saitama] and at Musashino Women’s University (now Musashino University – in Tokyo). His publications include “Ideal Separation of Religion and Politics and Constitutional Amendment” (理想の政教分離規定と憲法改正 –Jiyusha, 2015). He has co-authored works such as “The Disease Called Yoshida Shigeru” (吉田茂という病 – published in 2011).

Featured image above: Known as a maverick politician – Taro Kono in 2019. Photo: Japanese Ministry of Defense / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int. Cropped

“Maverick Minister Lets ‘3 Foxes in the Henhouse’” text: Shigeki Takeda, Sekai Nippo. Published 21st Feb. 2024 at 1:36 pm, updated 10:05 pm.

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