Examination: Request for Order to Dissolve the Family Federation, Runaway Politics and Media (1) Sudden Changes in the Government’s Ruling Party

Overnight, Cabinet Decision Reversed “Behind Closed Doors”

February 14, 2024 <Original [Japanese]>

Last October, when the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) petitioned the Tokyo District Court for an order to dissolve the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU; formerly the Unification Church, or the Family Federation), Prime Minister Fumio Kishida changed his interpretation of the Religious Corporation Law, the basis for the petition, without holding a Cabinet meeting, according to a Feb 9 dated reply to a question submitted on January 31 by House of Councillors Member Satoshi Hamada. The change was made clear in the written response. This report examines the out-of-the-ordinary political moves, including Kishida’s decision to use a simple procedure to request a dissolution order, which is tantamount to a “death sentence” for religious corporations. (Religion and Politics Reporting Team)

The Religious Affairs Division of the Agency for Cultural Affairs under MEXT, which oversees religious corporations, responded to a request for a dissolution order against FFWPU, stating that it was not subject to such a request because no criminal case had been filed by the church’s leaders, a statement confirmed at the October 14, 2022 Cabinet meeting.

In the letter Hamada received regarding Kishida’s response to the Diet’s decision to change the interpretation of the law to include civil cases, the government admitted that the Cabinet had not been consulted. This is truly “secret room” politics.

Seishiro Sugihara, a former professor at Musashino Women’s College and expert on issues related to religion and politics, noted, “If the interpretation was changed after consultation with the relevant ministries and agencies but without a Cabinet meeting, the government’s response is distressing. At the very least, it is now certain that the interpretation was changed without a Cabinet decision, and that itself is a pretty big problem.” The government cannot avoid criticism for its disregard of the severity of imposing a “death sentence” on religious corporations and showing insufficient consideration for the human rights of religious followers.

The Religious Corporations Act stipulates that a court may order the dissolution of a religious corporation that “commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially, in violation of laws and regulations,” at the request of MEXT and other agencies. However, the government response dated October 14 of the same year pointed out that there were no criminal violations, which are a prerequisite for requesting a dissolution order against FFWPU.

When Hiroyuki Konishi, a House of Councillors Member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, asked Kishida in a written letter why he had not filed a request for a dissolution order, he declined to give a clear answer, citing it was “a matter related to a pending case.”

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), triggered by opposition parties, media, and leftist intellectuals, conducted an investigation of its Diet members for their contacts with the church and affiliated organizations. In August 2022, it issued a policy that it would “have no relations with FFWPU or affiliated organizations, nor with any organizations that have been identified as socially problematic.” With this, the party tried to deflect criticism by removing those, who admitted to having had relations with FFWPU and its affiliated organizations, from cabinet and other positions.

Furthermore, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Taro Kono, has arbitrarily appointed several people accusatory of the church to the Consumer Affairs Agency’s “Study Group on Countermeasures against Malicious Business Practices including Spiritual Exploitation Commerce,” which lacks neutrality.

Kishida had another outburst over the issue of misreporting income of party tickets for LDP factions (slush funds), which became a problem late last year. When this issue came to light, Kishida made a sudden announcement on December 7 that he would resign as chairman of the Kishida faction.

While Kishida and his faction were under suspicion for slush funds, he himself headed the party’s political reform headquarters and declared the dissolution of his faction in a “sneak attack” of the Abe and Nikai factions, which were in difficult positions because of their own slush-fund issue. He announced a reform proposal that included a ban on faction-sponsored parties. The decision to push this LDP Vice-President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, who had been opposed to faction dissolution, caused a rift in the partnership among the three factions, previously referred to as a “triumvirate.”

As evidenced by the way he handled the issue of FFWPU and slush funds, Kishida has a reputation within the party for being a populist.

In October 2022, the government forced the resignation of Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa (Aso faction), who was said to have been in association with the church, but other contacts emerge in the current cabinet. MEXT Minister Masahito Moriyama (Kishida faction) requested the dissolution order of the church, yet opposition parties have been vigorously pursuing the case against him after it was revealed that he had received support from FFWPU in the last general election held in October 2021. Kishida, who defends Moriyama saying that he has cut ties with FFWPU, is also known to have met with the head of an affiliated organization, but is trying to get by with a blank face for fear of a domino effect. This is not consistent with the fact that Yamagiwa was removed from the Cabinet for having had previous relations with the church.

It was the LDP, including the prime minister, that originally brought up the issue of an “illegality-free” election alliance. The cost of being swayed by public opinion in order to prolong their own lives will be high.

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