These words by an anti-cult attorney unfortunately were not a joke. The final part of an award-winning journalist’s written statement to the Japanese Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
by Masumi Fukuda
There are countless examples of malicious speculation, distortion, and false statements made by Attorney Kito and other lawyers in the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales. Here is one typical example. On September 16, 2022, the Network’s Tokyo meeting was held in Ichigaya, where Attorney Hiroshi Watanabe delivered the keynote speech. At that time, he distributed copies of a chart to the participants, which, he said, was an internal document of the Unification Church.
Under the title “Feedback on the implementation of emergency measures for those at high risk,” the chart stated, “We will provide feedback on the implementation of ‘emergency measures’ for believers found to be at high risk from a risk assessment perspective,” and included a color-printed chart. The chart listed the numbers of certain persons in each of the 12 districts of Japan, classified as AA or AAA, and the total number of them, which was 911.
Although it was not easy to understand what these numbers meant, Attorney Hiroshi Watanabe proudly explained, “This material is probably from the Unification Church and from 2012. (…) The Unification Church calls donors who donated more than 100 million yen, such as the mother of the suspect assassin of Abe, Yamagami, ‘highly dangerous persons,’ and says there are totally 911 such persons throughout Japan. AAA probably are those who donated more than 1 billion yen. They are dangerous if they are not paid attention to, the Unification Church said. They had to take measures.”
“Those 911 donors, Watanabe continued, were recruited by believers who concealed their true identity, were lured by hiding the fact that the recruiters represented a religious organization and the Unification Church, and had all their property taken away from them under circumstances where they were threatened and deceived, and their families were destroyed. If these people sued the Unification Church, the church would be in serious trouble, and it had to take preventive measures. I think this material shows the antisocial nature of the Unification Church.”
I would like to compliment Attorney Watanabe for his ingenuous explanation, but in fact, this document was not a list of large donors. It was a list of believers who were at high risk of being abducted and confined by deprogrammers. Rather than being rich donors, most of these believers were young church members who had no financial resources. AAA referred to believers who were at extremely high risk of being abducted and deprogrammed, and did not refer to donors who donated more than one billion yen.
We do not know whether Attorney Watanabe explained the chart in that way based on a complete misunderstanding, or whether he knew the facts and made up the story. At any rate, we can conclude that this is an incident that shows the “antisocial nature” of the Network and the maliciousness of its use of any material it deems fit for creating propaganda aimed at discrediting the former Unification Church.
Incidentally, the number of abduction and deprogramming cases had started decreasing considerably around 2012, but the danger was still there, to the extent that they needed to have such a chart and consider preventive measures. I hope that the Network, which was deeply involved in the abduction and deprogramming of believers, would understand the true meaning of this chart, and take it seriously.
In my article “Crimes Committed by ‘Deprogrammers’ That Are Not Reported by Newspapers and TV (Report on Unification Church, 1),” which appeared in the December 2022 issue of the “Monthly Hanada,” I quoted a statement by Attorney Yoshihiro Ito, a member of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales.
He said, “The courts tend to accept easily claims that would never be accepted in other cases if they are directed against cults,” and “In civil lawsuits, there is a kind of unwritten rule that if a cult is involved, it will lose the case.” These statements were quoted in a written document submitted to the court by Kazuhiro Yonemoto, a reporter, in a lawsuit filed by Toru Goto, a member of the Family Federation, who was abducted, confined, and submitted to deprogramming attempts for twelve years and five months.
In fact, when we look at the court decisions on cases in which the Family Federation has been sued over the issue of donations, there are several cases in which we must admit that there is indeed some truth in the words of Attorney Ito.
(1) Tokyo District Court Judgment, August 21, 2002
In the case of the Tokyo District Court judgment dated August 21, 2002, the issue was whether a donation of one million yen by Plaintiff “T” to the Family Federation was or not an illegal act. In a six-page written statement submitted to the court, Plaintiff “T” claimed that Family Federation believer “I’ had told him that his uncle had served in the Japanese police in Korea during Japan’s occupation. “T” stated he was threatened by being told a false story that “Your uncle did horrible things to Korean people. The T family has committed tremendous crimes,” and was thus pressured to donate money.
However, other evidence revealed that Plaintiff “T” did not know that his uncle had served in the police in Korea until after he had donated one million yen. In other words, the six-page written statement was a complete fiction, and mentioned facts that were not known to the donor at the time of the donation. Thus, the claim by Plaintiff “T,” which was based on this false written statement, had no credibility at all.
The Tokyo District Court, however, surprisingly confirmed that believer “I” had threatened plaintiff “T” by telling him that “The T family has committed tremendous crimes” and that he was “a sinner,” and had pressured him to donate money. The court found that there was no evidence of what the “tremendous crimes” “I” mentioned to “T” were: perhaps “I” had not mentioned crimes committed in Korea, but other wrongdoings. Thus, the court found against the Family Federation.
I can only say that the court exhibited a clear prejudice and hostility against the Family Federation, and ruled in favor of Plaintiff “T” even after the credibility of his evidence had collapsed. On the other hand, the testimony of the Family Federation’s witnesses who flatly denied that “T” had been told that he should pay for his family’s crimes was completely ignored.
It can be said that this was a clearly unjust decision that corresponds to Attorney Ito’s “unwritten rule that if a cult is involved, it will lose the case.”
(2) Tokyo High Court Judgement, December 26, 2017
The Tokyo High Court judgment dated December 26, 2017 affirmed that, “Soliciting and causing the Plaintiff to make a donation and spend other money was illegal” in a case where 1.5 million yen (p. 25 of the decision) had been donated to the Family Federation. The Plaintiff was moved to donate after listening to an emotional sermon where a Unification Church head minister wept profusely, and the minister himself and others offered donations (p. 42). However, that a church minister weeps when preaching and offering donation does not seem extraordinary in the normal course of religious ceremonies. It is unclear why this should be constructed as an illegal way of soliciting donations.
In this case, one reason that led the court to decide against the Family Federation was the fact that at the time of the Plaintiff’s first contact with the Family Federation, which religious organization was offering courses had not been clearly specified. However, by the end of the course and when the Plaintiff joined the Family Federation and made a donation, clearly what the religious organization was had been clarified. At the time of the donation, the Plaintiff knew that the money will go to the Family Federation. Irrespective of what may have happened at the time of the first contact with the church, which was not the subject matter of the judgement, there seemed to be no reason to conclude that the minister’s emotional sermon was a form of illegal solicitation of donations.
Incidentally, the Plaintiff had left the church as a result of having being kidnapped, confined in an apartment, and deprogrammed. This was a typical case. Several of those who were deprogrammed were subsequently “instructed” to sue the church. We may suspect that, much more than the donation, it was filing a lawsuit that was an act the Plaintiff undertook as a result of an “illegal solicitation.”
(3) Tokyo District Court Judgment, December 3, 2020
In the case of the Tokyo District Court judgment dated December 3, 2020, a female believer of the Family Federation had learned from some co-religionists that they had participated in a ceremony called the Heaven and Earth Blessing, where a widow can have her marriage with her deceased husband blessed. She decided to participate in this ceremony herself. Then, after a dream where she saw her deceased eldest son, she decided to make a significant donation, as she believed in the truth of the church and its doctrines. She then left the church and asked that her donation be returned.
The Plaintiff told the story as I have presented it above in her complaint. The Tokyo District Court, however, found there a case of illegal solicitation of donations, stating that the Plaintiff had donated while being in a situation of constant fear and anxiety induced by the Family Federation believers.
In this case, the Plaintiff knew that the doctrines she was learning were these of the Family Federation. Yet, the solicitation of donations was still deemed illegal, which looks like an indictment of the religion itself. In this sense, the judgment was clearly unfair.
Additionally, in this case the Plaintiff had sought a refund of a portion of her donation while she was still a member of the Family Federation. She had reached a settlement with one of the believers, who refunded her partially, after which she had agreed that she had no other claims.. The validity of the agreement, which the woman had signed freely, was also challenged at trial. The court accepted the Plaintiff’s claim that the settlement she has signed was against public order and morals and thus invalid, and declared her entitled to a full refund.
I would like to say that such decision is just a case of religious discrimination. In the case involving the Family Federation, the court stubbornly refused to recognize the validity of a settlement that would have been recognized as valid as a matter of course in any other civil case.
(4) The Abuse of Presumptions
Presumptions should be used with great caution in legal cases. However, presumptions are particularly prominent in judgments where the Family Federation is the defendant. The presumption method is used to infer that, “If the amount of the donations was large, then we can presume that an illegal solicitation of donations was at work.” This method has been frequently used since the Fukuoka District Court judgment in 1994, when the Family Federation lost its first donation lawsuit.
However, the large amount of the donations may simply be an indication of the depth of a believer’s faith. Presuming that if a donation is large it has by definition been obtained fraudulently corresponds to a primitive logic and to a lack of understanding about how religion works. On the contrary, whether or not there was an illegal act of solicitation is something that should be determined by examining all the circumstances. To presume that the solicitation was illegal based on the amount of money simply imposes a materialistic and quantitative standard to a field such as religion where it should not be applied.
Judging based on presumptions also leads to inconsistencies. The court may find that two similar donations by the same donor to the same church were made one out of free will and the other as a result of an illicit solicitation, just because of their different amounts. In general, all persons have their own consistency and uniformity of behavior. It is strange and unnatural to presume that the process leading the same person to donate twice to the same organization was radically different in the first case and in the second case just because of a difference in the amounts.
At the end of the day, judges are merely speculating. Using presumptions to conclude that all large donations were solicited illegally is just a form of guesswork, ignores the unique circumstances of each case, and is extremely detrimental to the fairness of the trial.
There is one extreme example of the abuses caused by the method of presumptions. In the case decided by the Tokyo District Court with a judgement dated January 13, 2008, the Family Federation had been sued by a man whose ex-wife was a believer. The man claimed that the ex-wife had made donations from his bank account without his permission during their marriage.
Although the ex-wife denied that she had donated any money to the Family Federation, the court judged that all the unaccounted money from her ex-husband’s bank passbook had been donated to the Family Federation. The court also stated that the Family Federation knew that the donations were from the husband’s property and had been made by the ex-wife without his authorization.
In this case, the judge failed to identify the person in the Family Federation who had received the donations, yet held the Federation responsible. This was a wild decision, putting the judge in the position of an omniscient God and denying the Family Federation a fair trial.
In 2021, the Family Federation won two cases in the Tokyo District Court. In both cases, the Plaintiffs were represented by leading lawyers from the Network. However, the Plaintiffs’ claims and evidence were so egregiously false that the court had no choice but to declare a total defeat for the Plaintiffs.
In the Tokyo District Court judgment of March 1, 2021, the court even pointed out the possibility that the evidence submitted by the Plaintiff was fabricated. In the case of the Tokyo District Court judgment dated May 14, 2021, there was a significant discrepancy between what the Plaintiff said and the documents the same Plaintiff had submitted.
However, despite extreme cases like this, in general the courts continue to apply “the unwritten rule that if a cult is involved, it will lose the case,” and the conclusion of the cases can be easily predicted at their beginning. To reach these conclusions, courts would accept the statements of the Plaintiffs even when they are hardly believable, would ignore witnesses from the Family Federation who contradict the Plaintiff’s statements, and would abuse the methods of presumptions to create “facts” that would lead to the defeat of the Family Federation in the case.
It is clear that no matter how many such unreasonable decisions are accumulated, they cannot be used as grounds for the dissolution of the Family Federation.
Since I began my investigation of the former Unification Church, now the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, I have come into contact with and discussed with a wide variety of members, including church staff, ordinary believers, second-generation believers, and members who had been abducted and confined for the purpose of deprogramming. They are all gentle, kind, and thoughtful people. In a word, they are good people. And, in keeping with the doctrine of “love both your benefactors and enemies,” they are very tolerant of those who slander and attack them. To be honest, I think they are even too nice.
Why, then, do people have a bad image of the former Unification Church? It is probably because the anti-Unification-Church lobby has conducted an intense negative campaign against the church for many years, and as a result, a social stigma is now strongly rooted in Japanese society, as is a broader prejudice against new religions.
Through my articles in “Monthly Hanada” since last year, I have revealed many facts that had remained hidden and had been not generally reported, such as the true identity of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales and of Sayuri Ogawa. Through my investigation, what was most surprising, however, was that even the courts have been extremely influenced by the media to the point of issuing decisions I regard as unjust. Some media poke fun at the Kishida government as one unduly influenced by TV talk shows, but unfortunately the judges themselves appeared to be influenced by the media. I would like to write about this issue in a future article.
Increasingly, I meet politically conservative reporters and activists who have understood the political agenda behind the campaigns against the former Unification Church.
I sincerely hope that your Ministry will come to a fair and neutral judgment on the issue, based on true facts, without being unnecessarily influenced by left-wing political parties, left-wing lawyers, and left-leaning biased media.