There are no legal reasons to dissolve the Family Federation. The campaign against it follows decades of bigotry and discrimination.
by Tatsuki Nakayama
Abduction and confinement of Family Federation believers
There is a reason why there are fewer trials against the Family Federation. For nearly 30 years, anti-family coalition forces have asked people know in English as “deprogrammers” to kidnap and imprison believers, force them to leave, and persuade them to sue the Family Federation as a defendant if they leave.
This is called the “defection business” and it seems that the number of abduction and confinement victims exceeds 4,300. The composition of the “Abduction and Confinement → Trial” is shown in the graph above.
For example, Toru Goto, a believer, was imprisoned for 12 and a half years, and in 2015 he won a lawsuit at the Supreme Court and won compensation of 22 million yen. In this way, since the Family Federation won the case against the abductors and the abduction and confinement were eliminated, there was no longer a “stepping stone” to bring lawsuits against the Family Federation.
The relationship between this abduction and confinement and the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, which is said to have been involved in it, is described in detail in “Our Unpleasant Neighbors” (Information Center Press) written by journalist Kazuhiro Yonemoto, to whom Tetsuya Yamagami sent a letter the day before the murder of former Prime Minister Abe.
In the media, the narrative—or “Composition A”—that is reported is only that “the Family Federation is the perpetrator and is causing the damage of large donations.”
However, behind the scenes, there is also a “Composition B” narrative that says, “The Family Federation has suffered from the abduction and confinement involving the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales.” I would like Prime Minister Kishida and the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to look at both these compositions with an open mind.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) says that the Family Federation is “malicious” because it lost a total of 1.4 billion yen in 22 civil court cases in which the Family Federation lost on the grounds of employer liability.
However, according to my analysis, the Family Federation won about half of the cases, 48% and won about 1.1 billion yen. For half of the donation, the court did not recognize the Family Federation’s tort liability (employer’s liability). In this way, it is not fair to take only the Family Federation’s lost cases as a way to claim that it is malicious.
It has also been criticized that the doctrine and solicitation of the Family Federation is “mind control” or “brainwashing.” However, the definition of mind control is vague to begin with and overseas research has persuasively shown that it does not have the effect of changing humans. In Japan trials, which have been contested for more than 20 years, there has never been a single case in which responsibility for mind control has been found head-on.
Comparison of maliciousness with other religions
Compared to other religions, I don’t think the Family Federation is “malicious” enough to order its dissolution.
In the cases of Aum Shinrikyo and Myokakuji Temple, where dissolution orders were issued, leaders were sentenced for murder and fraud. These cases cannot be compared to the Family Federation, where no executives have been taken to court or convicted of criminal or fraudulent acts.
In addition, there are six religious corporations, whose believers and former believers have committed group assaults and murders, that have not been disbanded and are still in existence today. These are Nenpō Shinkyō, World Salvation Buddhism,
Hōyū-no-kai, Kigenkai, Kukai Esoteric Buddhism Daikinryūin, and Shinji Shumeikai.
In particular, the first three religious corporations, such as Nenpo Shinkyo, were brought to court with dissolution orders on the grounds of mass lynching and murder, but the court ultimately refused to approve their dissolution. I don’t believe the Family Federation should be dissolved given that other religious groups that killed their followers are not dissolved.
In addition, the government has not exercised its right to question or requested a dissolution order against Hōnohana Sampogyo, in which the leader and others were subjected to organized fraud civil cases, and the Kenshokai, which has caused 12 criminal cases since 1999 and its district director was sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder in 2003.
Compared to these religious groups, you can see that there is little chance that the Family Federation will be dissolved. Once the trial for the dissolution order begins, it will be clear that the government will eventually lose. If the Kishida administration were to start a trial for dissolution order, I think it would leave a stain on the nation’s history as a government that “lost in a case where it is destined to lose, started a trial for religious persecution and wasted tax money.”
Past failure to file a dissolution order request
In fact, for about thirty years, the government has repeatedly received requests from the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales to investigate and dissolve the Family Federation, but it has not exercised its right to question and has not requested a dissolution order.
Specifically, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1994 and the Agency for Cultural Affairs in 1998 clearly determined that it was not possible to request a dissolution order of the Family Federation after analyzing court precedents.
In 2012, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales filed a lawsuit claiming national compensation from the Family Federation. The lawyers argued that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) had failed to exercise its legal rights to question the Family Federation and request a dissolution order.
However, the Tokyo District Court rejected the request of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales in February 2017, stating that it was within the discretion of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to not ask questions or request a dissolution order.
Six and a half years have passed since then, and no court case has been filed against the Family Federation regarding donations. In other words, you can understand that there is no way that the Family Federation, which has improved its organization after the 2009 Declaration of Compliance, can now be ordered to dissolve.
Dissolution order does not help alleged victims
The Tokyo District Court’s February 2017 ruling stated that “relief” for “individual stakeholders” was not the purpose of a dissolution order, but that “relief for damages is entrusted to the general tort code, etc.”
As such, in the first place, the dissolution order is not intended to help individual victims. In other words, the court held that the relief of individuals, such as the Yamagami family and Sayuri Ogawa (pseudonym), should be discussed in tort and should be considered separately from the question of whether or not to lose the legal personality of a religious corporation.
In addition, when a corporation is dissolved, it becomes difficult to compensate for damages, so in order to save the victims, it is better to continue the corporation rather than dissolve it. The Diet passed the Act on Prevention of Unfair Donations in December last year. However, to request a dissolution order while enacting a new law looks like an act of shooting oneself in the foot.
In fact, Masaki Kito of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales once stated that it was better not to dissolve Aum Shinrikyo. Why should Aum Shinrikyo not be dissolved, but the Family Federation should be dissolved?
According to data from the Consumer Affairs Agency in 2021, only 1.9% of the damage consultations it invited for “spiritual sales” problems were related to the Family Federation. The remaining 98.1% involved “spiritual sales” for other organizations.
However, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales does not pay attention to the 98% of organizations on its website; it only attacks the Family Federation. I feel that the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales—despite its name—only works for the Anti-Family Federation cause with a partisan character and political purpose.
Name change to Family Federation
The change of name from the Unification Church to the Family Federation in 2015 has been criticized as a ploy to influence politicians by using a new name. This case does not deserve criticism from a legal point of view. Deciding the name of a religious corporation is part of religious freedom and can essentially be changed immediately by notification to competent authorities.
This is evident from international comparisons. In 1997, then-President of the Family Federation, which emphasizes the family, Reverend Sun Myung Moon instructed the entire world membership to change its name to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. As a result, the name change to Family Federation was completed in 97 countries around the world a few years later.
However, in Japan, the notification to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) was not accepted; it was finally changed after 12 years of delay, compared with other countries. Internationally, only the Family Federation in Japan was subjected to discriminatory measures.
Prime Minister Kishida’s dangerous interpretation of the law
Prime Minister Kishida stated in the Diet in November 2022 that the Family Federation’s effort to create a memorandum (agreement) stating that believers would not file a claim for damages against the Family Federation or that the creation of a videotape of these scenes itself is enough to prove the illegality of Family Federation’s solicitation and recruitment methods. Moreover, this view was followed by the Consumer Affairs Agency in its explanation of the Unfair Donation Solicitation Prevention Act.
However, as a lawyer, I can say that it is a matter of course and a daily occurrence to prepare agreements, make recordings, and videos in order to confirm the intentions of the parties and prevent future disputes. If taking a video is presumed to be illegal, the visualization of criminal investigation interrogation will also be close to illegality.
The memorandum that Prime Minister Kishida claimed to be the grounds to prove Family Federation’s illegality was held to be legally valid in civil trials last year and the year before. Since Prime Minister Kishida has made these statements that ignore these precedents, I believe that there are no people around him who calmly analyze judicial precedents and give him proper advice.
As a Japanese citizen
In this way, I feel a bit embarrassed, not only as a lawyer but also as a Japanese citizen, because Prime Minister Kishida has changed the interpretation of laws and regulations overnight and made statements that ignore judicial precedents.
As I have mentioned so far, it is clear from the comparison with past cases that it is not possible to order the dissolution of the Family Federation. Nevertheless, the current situation—in which the right of questioning is exercised seven times to “torture the members of the Family Federation without killing them,” so to speak—is a major religious persecution that violates the freedom of religion under the Constitution. In fact, it has drawn strong international criticism from American and European religious liberty watchdogs and human rights activists.
Japan, as a world-class democracy, must be a nation that values freedom of religion. I would like Prime Minister Kishida not to listen only to the arguments of one party, but to make a calm and rational judgment based on judicial precedents and the matters pointed out in this document.