Kishida now says religious groups can be dissolved for civil breaches

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida quickly reversed the government’s interpretation of a law on Oct. 19 by saying that Civil Code violations are grounds for forcing a religious corporation to disband.

Just a day earlier, in discussions at the Lower House Budget Committee session on what to do about the Unification Church, Kishida said the basis to request a court order to dissolve an organization under the Religious Corporations Law could only be criminal activity.

That stance fueled outrage in the Diet.

So, at the Upper House Budget Committee session on Oct. 19, Kishida said the basis to request such a court order “can include an illegal act under the Civil Code in cases where the act is found to be organized, malicious and continuous, and meets the requirements under the Religious Corporations Law.”

One senior government insider said the prime minister changed his stance because his administration decided that it “will not be able to withstand the severe criticism of opposition parties.”

Only two religious organizations have come under court orders to dissolve. Leaders in both of these groups were found to have violated criminal laws.

Politicians and others opposed to forcing the Unification Church to disband have noted that none of its officials has been convicted in a criminal trial.

The Religious Corporations Law stipulates that a court can order a religious corporation to dissolve when it is “in violation of laws and regulations” and “commits an act that is clearly found to substantially harm public welfare.”

At the Oct. 18 Lower House Budget Committee session, Kishida mentioned the case of Aum Shinrikyo, the religious corporation that was ordered to dissolve in 1995 after its members committed mass murder on the Tokyo subway system.

Kishida said the basis for such an order is “a breach of prohibitions or orders prescribed in human-made laws, such as the Criminal Law.”

He then said he believes such “prohibitions or orders” do not include those in the Civil Code.

A panel under the Cultural Affairs Agency has recommended a government investigation into the Unification Church’s financial activities, with the possibility of seeking a court order for it to disband. It also recommended legal revisions to help victims of the church.

Opposition lawmakers criticized Kishida’s stance after the Oct. 18 session, saying it could take several years to finalize a criminal prosecution against the church.

At the Oct. 19 session when he included Civil Code violations, Kishida said he had “refreshed the government’s thoughts.”

A senior government official has admitted the administration lacked adequate preparation for the issue.

“We didn’t study the interpretation of the law well enough,” the official said.

(This article was written by Taro Kotegawa and Hiroki Koizumi.)