Photo/Illutration Members of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales hold a news conference on Oct. 11 in Tokyo. (Takashi Togo)

A lawyers' group has asked the government to dissolve the Unification Church for violating the property rights of its followers and keeping its identify a secret while engaging in fund-raising and missionary outreach. 

The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales on Oct. 11 mailed the education minister, the justice minister and others a document requesting the Unification Church’s religious corporation status be stripped.

The network urged the officials to ask a court to issue a dissolution order against the church, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Such an order has been issued twice in the past against other religious corporations due to legal violations.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi, who heads the lawyers' network, said at a news conference that a dissolution order against the Unification Church would be significant because it will “show publicly and clearly that the church has committed antisocial activities.”

Under such an order, a religious corporation can continue to work as a religious organization but is ineligible for tax benefits, Yamaguchi said.

The network said the church, while soliciting large donations from its followers and conducting missionary outreach while keeping its identity a secret, committed "many and serious" violations of property and other rights.

However, the central government has maintained a cautious stance on a dissolution order, citing religious freedom.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at an extraordinary Diet session that such an order “takes away a status of religious corporation and is an extremely severe measure.”

Kishida said, “From the standpoint of guaranteeing religious freedom, we need to carefully make a decision.”

Under the Religious Corporation Law, a court can issue a dissolution order to a religious corporation after the authorities concerned ask a court to do so and the court confirms an act of causing significant harm to public welfare.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs said there are about 180,000 religious corporations that are certified by the education minister or prefectural governors as of the end of 2020.

In the past, only two corporations have received a dissolution order from a court because of a legal violation.

One was the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which carried out the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes.

The other was the Myokakuji temple group, whose leader and executives were accused of defrauding followers through exorbitant fees paid for memorial services for departed souls.

A court set standards to issue a dissolution order when it dealt with the Aum Shinrikyo.

The standards include determining that an act committed by a religious corporation violates prohibitive rules defined by the criminal law and others.

The agency said the standards were applied in the case of Myokakuji.

A representative of the agency has cited the standards at a hearing held by opposition parties and said, “None of the senior officials of (the Unification Church) has been tried in a criminal case, so it is difficult for a court to issue a dissolution order.”

“Asking a court to issue a dissolution order anyway in a situation where we are not sure if we can dissolve (the church) is not a responsible action,” the representative said.

The lawyers' network in its request said such explanations from the agency are unjust and criticized its inactive approach.

The network said the church has committed illegal acts and cited past civil trial cases as evidence.

In response to the criticism, the Unification Church told the Asahi Shimbun: “We do not recognize that there has been anything that merits a dissolution order. We will wait and see if the supervisory agencies make the correct decision.”