In this brief paper I will discuss the Japanese response to three areas pertinent to cults: (1) judicial standards in cases involving donations; (2) the position taken by the French National Assembly; and (3) Falun Gong.
Judicial Standards in Cases Involving Donations
In over ten cases in Japan the civil courts have found the Unification Church liable for activities related to persuading people to make donations. Several other organizations have also been ordered to pay compensation to victims because of illegal activities related to exacting donations from new followers.
Plaintiffs have lost cases against religious cults for two reasons. First, the lack of evidence. Second, the activities were not found to be illegal because the plaintiffs had been willing to pay the donations at the time.
What is the standard for civil courts in deciding legal vs. illegal? There is obviously a fine line between right and wrong, legal and illegal. And this is when social norms are considered. But what is considered a social norm by the Japanese courts? Recently, Japanese courts have identified three objective elements by which to judge relevant social norms:
Intention: When the aim of an activity is mainly for raising money, the activity tends to be considered illegal.
Method: The method used to get money, including (a) over what period of time was pressure put on the victims for a donation; (b) how many members were involved in each incident and where did the demands take place; (c) what is written in the organization’s instruction manuals.
Effect: e.g., the amount of money donated.
Cultic religious organizations as defendants try to insist that the plaintiffs (victims) were willing to donate, or they emphasize that their members did not use forceful methods. However, Japanese courts consider the objective elements and evidence of each case to be more important than the psychological elements and subjective opinions of the defendants. For example, using these objective standards the Japanese civil courts have often ruled that the organized activities of the Moonies are illegal and the Unification Church is liable (see Appendix 1).
Position Taken by the French National Assembly
My colleagues and I strongly admire the stance taken by the French National Assembly with its passage of its Anti-Cult Law in May 2001. We are sure that this will protect citizens from the poison of destructive cults in that it prohibits dangerous activities like the use of mind control techniques and other abusive activities of cults.
However, the adoption of such an approach in Japan is unlikely to succeed for the following reasons:
Japanese citizens don’t trust the police or the government. In contrast, the French seem to rely on the police. In Japan, there is the fear that the empowerment of the police force may lead to violations of human rights and to discrimination of minorities.
In Japan several large religious organizations were established around 1860. If the Japanese Diet (Parliament) attempted to formulate a law similar to France’s, these large organizations could possibly block the introduction of such a law.
It can be difficult to define which activities are crimes. Currently in Japan, the civil courts have handled such cases and have established standards but not the criminal courts.
Therefore, we need to make a clear standard defining illegal activities, not only in civil courts but also in the criminal courts.
Falun Gong in China
Many Japanese opinion leaders criticize the Chinese government’s policies regarding Falun Gong, claiming that these policies are a breach of international human rights.
The corruption of the communist bureaucrats is clear in Chinese society. Such corruption has led many Chinese citizens to rely on new religious movements, such as Falun Gong. The negative impact of new religious movements approximately 200 years ago on the power of the Emperor of China is likely the main reason for the current Chinese Government’s fear of new religious movements. Hence, many Japanese people believe that the Chinese government’s reaction to Falun Gong is based on its fear of losing power.
However, the actual activities of Falun Gong are not clear, even in Japan. There are rumors that Falun Gong uses mind control techniques and that Falun Gong demands a lot of money from its followers. But there is no objective evidence to verify these rumors. Neither the Chinese government nor the Falun Gong organization has given any clear objective evidence to support their subjective opinions.
We are afraid of being used and misled by both sides. Consequently, we are unable to officially make a statement concerning Falun Gong. We will continue to watch both sides carefully.
Judgments handed down by courts in Japan against the Unification Church include:
Judgment by the Fukuoka District Court, May 27, 1994; Upheld by the Fukuoka High Court, February 19, 1996; Finalized by the Supreme Court, September 18, 1997.
The Fukuoka District Court, High Court and Supreme Court all ruled that the Unification Church is liable for the unlawful procurement of monetary donations from plaintiffs (two widows). The Unification Church was ordered to pay the plaintiffs the sum of $300,000.
Judgment by the Tokyo District Court, October 24, 1997; Upheld by the Tokyo High Court, September 22, 1998; Finalized by the Supreme Court, March, 11, 1999.
The Tokyo District Court, High Court and Supreme Court all ruled that the Unification Church is liable for the unlawful procurement of monetary donations from the plaintiff (a woman). The Unification Church was ordered to pay the plaintiff the sum of $210,000.
Judgment by the Nara District Court, April 16, 1997; Upheld by the Osaka High Court, June 29, 1999; Finalized by the Supreme Court, January 21, 2000.
The Nara District Court, and the Osaka High Court and Supreme Court all ruled that the Unification Church is liable for the unlawful procurement of monetary donations from the plaintiffs (two women). The Unification Church was ordered to pay the plaintiffs the sum of $70,000. In addition, the Nara District Court recognized that the Unification Church has been perpetrating unlawful acts as a religious corporate body.
Judgment by the Takamatsu District Court, December 3, 1996.
The Unification Church was ordered to pay the plaintiff the sum of $60,000.
Judgment by the Sendai District Court, March 23, 1999; Upheld by the Sendai High Court, January 16, 2001; Finalized by the Supreme Court, June 8, 2001.
The Sendai District Court, High Court, and Supreme Court all ruled that the Unification Church is liable for the illegal practice of selling “ginseng extract” to the plaintiffs (three women). The Unification Church as the defendant was ordered to pay the plaintiffs the sum of $67,000.
Judgment by the Fukuoka District Court, December 16, 1999; Upheld by the Fukuoka High Court, March 29, 2001; Finalized by the Supreme Court, October 16, 2001.
The Fukuoka District Court, High Court, and Supreme Court all ruled that the Unification Church and its business front company “Happy World” are legally liable for the illegal practice of selling such items as marble towers, statues of Buddha and ginseng extract to the plaintiffs (two women). The Unification Church was ordered to pay the plaintiffs the sum of $500,000.
See the English Web site of the National Network of Lawyers Against the Spiritual Sales: http://www.mesh.ne.jp/reikan/
Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Esq. is an attorney with Tokyo Kyodo Law office in Tokyo, Japan.
Cultic Studies Review Vol. 2, No. 3, 2003, Page