The unethical strategies of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales created abusive lawsuits to harass and destroy the Unification Church.
by Masumi Fukuda.
Article 2 of 4. Read article 1.
The so-called “Youth Return” lawsuits took place in Sapporo, Niigata, Tokyo, Nagoya, Okayama, Kobe, and other cities throughout Japan from 1987 to 2001, and represented the culmination of the fabricated lawsuits.
The plaintiffs, 180 former believers, claimed that the missionary work of the former Unification Church was an illegal act carried out by concealing the church’s true identity. They demanded compensation for the damage they claimed the church had caused to them during the years of their youth, when they were believers. This was an unprecedented case. Normally, believers who have voluntarily left a church would never sue their former organization, unless something unusual happened.
In fact, all but a few of the 180 plaintiffs were former believers who had been forced to abandon their faith by deprogramming through abduction and confinement. They had been persuaded to join the lawsuits by the deprogrammers.
During their confinement, the former believers were told by deprogrammers such as Takashi Miyamura, and Christian pastors that, “The Unification Church lies!” “You have been brainwashed!” and “The Unification Church believers are less than human!” As a result, almost 70% of the believers finally came to believe that they had been deceived by the Unification Church and abandoned their faith.
At the same time, they developed resentment and hostility toward the organization that, they were now led to believe, had deprived them of precious years in their lives. They fell into a psychological state in which they thought that they could do anything to destroy the Family Federation. They could tell any lie, and it would be justifiable. This was “brainwashing” in the opposite sense. These former believers stood up in court and testified in the “Youth Return” trials.
As for the results of these trials, the plaintiffs won in Sapporo, but lost in Nagoya, Okayama, and Kobe. In some cases, they settled. However, the anti-Unification Church side widely broadcasted that “The former Unification Church has now been recognized as an anti-social organization,” based on the fact that the plaintiffs had won some of their cases.
However, these unusual lawsuits were part of a plot orchestrated by the anti-Unification-Church side to use deprogrammed former believers who had been forced to abandon their faith to destroy the church’s social reputation and to force its dissolution.
The media coverage of these incidents made the relatives of believers feel anxious. They were encouraged by professional deprogrammers, who scared them by saying, “If this continues, your children will become criminals.” Their aim was to kidnap and confine their family members, too. This vicious cycle has been repeated for many years.
In the first place, is the testimony of those who have been abducted and confined credible in a court of law? Article 38, paragraph 2 of the Constitution states, “Confession made under compulsion, torture or threat, or after an unreasonably long detention or confinement, shall not be admitted as evidence.” In other words, any legal statement or signature by a person who is detained, threatened, and in an abnormal mental state should be invalid—but surprisingly, this hardly became an issue in these trials.
The reason for this, as I have pointed out time and again, is largely due to the fact that “In civil lawsuits, there is a kind of unwritten rule, that ‘If you are a cult, you lose,’” and “Claims that would not be accepted in other cases would be easily accepted if the opponent is a religion labeled a ‘cult’” (testimony of lawyer Yoshiro Ito, who was a member of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales).
Incidentally, the Family Federation cannot be called a “cult.” It is impossible to make a clear distinction between so-called “cults” and other religions. In the West, many religious scholars have already abandoned to use of the term “cult” as it is a discriminatory term used to denigrate the religions those who use this word do not like.
Going back to its origins, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales has intentionally produced “victims” since its foundation in 1987. In the January 2023 issue of this magazine [“Hanada”], I wrote an article titled “The Mastermind Behind the Unification Church Issue.” It is fair to say that the true purpose of the Network, founded in 1987, was not to help victims of “spiritual sales,” but to prevent the enactment of the Anti-Espionage Law, which was being promoted at the time by the International Federation for Victory over Communism (VOC), an organization affiliated with the former Unification Church. Lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi, a core member of the Network and one of its founders, stated that “Money made through the spiritual sales is being used by the Unification Church and the VOC to finance the efforts to enact the Anti-Espionage Law.” In other words, they believed the money made from the “spiritual sales” was used to promote the enacting of the Anti-Espionage Law. The Network thus tried to cut off the flow of money by stopping the “spiritual sales.”
The church as such is not involved in the “spiritual sales” now, nor has it been responsible of them in the past. At that time, it was a company run by believers that had engaged in these sales activities.
In August 1986, lawyer Takeshi Ono of the Yokohama Bar Association, who pioneered the initial lawyers’ group that acted against the fortune pot sales, stated at a symposium: “Many ordinary lawyers did not join us because they thought that cases where consumers voluntarily bought the items were difficult, and they wanted to avoid complicated matters. We launched the team with the idea of helping the victims (…) At the time of its founding, there was only one victim, but we decided to launch a lawyers’ group at any rate and have the media covering it, hoping to discover more victims.”
They decided to organize a group of lawyers to “rescue the victims” when there was only one victim. It was a classic case of confusing the means with the end.
Almost all of the lawyers in the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales are affiliated with the former Socialist Party and the Communist Party, maintain relationships with extremist groups and North Korea, and are leftists and atheists. In contrast, the former Unification Church is an anti-communist and conservative organization that believes in God. It is clear that this was an ideological struggle between the two groups. Lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi had clearly stated, “I would like to establish a lawyers’ organization to deter right-wing activities, especially to prevent the enactment of the Anti-Espionage Law.”
Furthermore, from the very beginning, the lawyer commented, “I would like to pursue the Unification Church’s anti-social activities and demand that MEXT withdraw its approval as a religious corporation” (“Shakai Shimpo” [the official newspaper of the former Socialist Party], February 20, 1987). There was clearly a political agenda in making such a statement when the actual extent of the alleged damage caused by the Unification Church was still unknown.
At any rate, the extensive use of television, newspapers, and magazines to report on the “spiritual sales” was indeed a powerful tool to find “victims.” This was because people who were originally happy with their purchase of marble pots and pagodas became so anxious that they rushed to the consumer affairs centers. However, Masataka Ito, then editor-in-chief of the “Asahi Shimbun,” which was one of the first newspapers to launch a campaign against the “spiritual sales,” revealed an “inconvenient truth” about the “victims” at a gathering of his colleagues on October 23, 1987. “The newspapers and TV stations call them victims, he said, but nine out of every ten purchasers of these items report they are happy. Actually, 99% say they are happy. So why do they only report on the 1% or so who are against these sales? I have received many protests [from the sellers].
They do have a point. Less than 5% of the buyers reported being victims of ‘spiritual sales.’ We took a sort of a poll, and the majority still believes in the efficacy of the vases.”
They did blow the whistle, but the “victims” did not show up as expected. So, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales tried to lure purchasers of the artifacts who visited Consumer Affairs Centers into filing lawsuits through aggressive strategies. The book “The Truth About Spiritual Sales,” published by Sekai Nippo in 1996, describes in detail the reality of the situation.
In September 1987, an unprecedented case occurred in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, where lawyers filed a lawsuit without the clients’ permission. The “victims” were three people, including Mrs. T, a 60-year-old housewife at the time. The lawyers who filed the lawsuit without their clients’ consent were fifteen attorneys including Hideo Mizutani, who belonged to the “Lawyers’ Association for Freedom,” an organization of attorneys affiliated with the Communist Party of Japan.
They filed a lawsuit in the Sendai District Court against import and trading companies run by former Unification Church believers and their employees, demanding 43.4 million yen in compensation for damages, claiming that they “took advantage of Mrs. T’s simple faith and forced her to buy seals, pagodas, pots, and other items totaling 36 million yen.”
It all started when Mrs. T, who had purchased marble pots and pagodas, visited the Consumer Affairs Center in Miyagi Prefecture at the suggestion of her son, who had become concerned by reading the media coverage of “spiritual sales.” There, she was introduced to lawyer Mizutani, who asked her to pay 250,000 yen in legal fees to get the full amount back, which she did.
However, there was no mention of filing a lawsuit, and the plaintiffs, Mrs. T and her son, were not contacted at all when the suit was filed in September. When Mrs. T realized that she had become a plaintiff without even knowing it, she was surprised to see her own complaint for the first time. What is more, the content differed significantly from what she had told lawyer Mizutani. In October, she and others withdrew their complaint and sent a notice of dismissal to Mizutani.
It seems that the employees of public institutions such as Consumer Affairs Centers and certain lawyers had a “deep relationship” with each other.