The Japanese parliament has passed laws deeming fraudulent donations motivated by “fear” and where the “free will” of donors has supposedly been suppressed.

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 1 of 4.

The Japanese parliament in joint session.  From Twitter.
The Japanese parliament in joint session. From Twitter.

On December 10, 2022, the Japanese Parliament enacted a Law for the Partial Revision of the Consumer Contract Law and a Law for the Prevention of Unfair Solicitation of Donations by Legal Entities and Others.

Unusually, the laws were passed over a weekend, emphasizing that the government and parliamentarians considered them urgent. What, indeed, was so urgent?

On July 8, 2022, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated in Nara, Japan. His murderer was a certain Tetsuya Yamagami. His motive for killing Abe was that the former prime minister had participated, via video in 2021 and by sending a message in 2022, to two events organized by the Universal Peace Federation, an NGO in general consultative status with the United Nations that is connected with the Unification Church founded by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon. (It is now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, although the media continues to use “Unification Church” or “former Unification Church”, and I will continue this usage.)

Yamagami hated the Unification Church because twenty years earlier, in 2002, his mother went bankrupt and he blamed her downfall on excessive donations to the church, of which he is still a member. Yamagami also planned to assassinate the current leader of the Unification Church, Reverend Moon’s widow, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, but ultimately settled for killing Abe.

Almost overnight, which cannot but raise suspicions about the prior preparation of a campaign that was looking for a chance to start, opponents of the Unification Church launched a massive and unprecedented attack on the religious movement, persuading to most of the media and, if the polls should be. The majority of Japanese public opinion believed that Reverend Moon’s organization was responsible for the crime. The twisted argument used was that if Yamagami’s mother had not made a donation to the Unification Church, her son would have had no complaints against her and would not have murdered Abe.

Abe's video message to the “Think Tank 2022”, an event organized by the Universal Peace Federation.  Screenshot.
Abe’s video message to the “Think Tank 2022”, an event organized by the Universal Peace Federation. Screenshot.

Opponents of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, of which Abe was a member, jumped on the bandwagon, including the Japanese Communist Party, which had resented decades of successful anti-communist activity by organizations connected to the Unification Church in Japan. A group of anti-cult lawyers who oppose the Unification Church, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Selling, became internationally famous almost overnight. Former “apostate” members of the Unification Church, including some whose stories were demonstrably false, also became celebrities and even managed to be received by the Prime Minister of Japan.

All of this turmoil coalesced into two legal initiatives, one aimed at depriving the Unification Church/Family Federation of its status as a religious corporation, and another at amending existing consumer protection laws to protect those who donate excessively to charitable organizations. religious. In fact, the term “spirit sales” had been invented by the left-wing media and anti-cultists to expose the sale of certain artifacts believed to bring good luck or spiritual significance at exorbitant prices. Then “sales without a material object” were included, that is, donations.

On December 10, 2022, the Consumer Contracts Law, which had already been amended in 2018 under pressure from lawyers who had denounced “spiritual sales”, was further amended to include provisions declaring contracts entered into exploiting the “fear for life” , health, property and other important matters of consumers or their families”, and facilitating the cancellation of such contracts and obtaining refunds. The provision on the right to terminate contracts is retroactive, unless the limitation period established by the previous law had already expired when the new law entered into force.

The new law against the “unfair solicitation of donations”, also approved on December 10, has a controversial article 3.1 that classifies as illegal the “suppression of the free will of people” when requesting donations, and lists in article 4 six circumstances indicating that the donation had not been spontaneous.

Circumstances 1 to 4 seem to refer to physical violence: those requesting the donation refuse to leave even when asked to do so by the potential donor; the donors themselves are prevented from leaving a certain place or taken to a place where it would be more difficult for them to resist the pressure; or are prevented from consulting with third parties, by telephone or other means, even when they have expressed their intention to do so.

Circumstance 5 refers to an old problem, and more than religion, it deals with love relationships, when one of the spouses threatens to leave the other if a specific donation is not made. As everyone understands, this is as common as it is difficult to prevent.

The approval of the new laws was widely publicized.  Screenshot.
The approval of the new laws was widely publicized. Screenshot.

The post-Abe assassination controversies over the Unification Church are addressed in Circumstance 6, which is the most problematic. It considers fraudulent the cases in which the potential donor is requested on the basis of an alleged “knowledge based on inspiration or other special abilities that are difficult to reasonably demonstrate”, and persuaded that “it is essential to donate life, body, goods, or other important matters of the individual or his family members to avoid a serious disadvantage”. In this case, a “fear” is created in the donors that “serious disadvantages” could befall them or their relatives “in the present or in the future” if they do not donate.

Article 5 prohibits donating the house where the donor lives and real estate or other property essential to continue the donor’s normal business activities.

The rest of the law tries to support victims of fraudulent donations, with the collaboration of “relevant organizations” (I wonder if they would include the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales and other groups with an anti-cult ideological agenda); the possibility for the Japanese authorities to make public the names of entities under investigation for improper solicitation of donations; and the resources open to misled donors to recover what they have donated. The law is not retroactive but long prescription periods are introduced, up to ten years. Article 12 calls for religious freedom to be “considered” when enforcing the law, but it is not clear how this can happen in practice.

While some of the provisions are reasonable (certainly the use of physical violence to solicit donations should not be allowed, but I wonder if a new law is needed for that), we must not forget that the laws, while far reaching They have generally been approved to target religious donations and the Unification Church. As such, they have two very problematic aspects. The first is that they prohibit donations based on claims of religious “inspiration” and religious “fear”. The second is that they claim that donors can be deprived of their free will. These issues are not new and, in fact, have been debated for centuries. I will return to them in future articles in the series.