The government's move to seek a court order to strip the Unification Church of its religious corporation status is just the beginning of efforts to tackle issues surrounding the organization, which has faced questions over its aggressive fundraising tactics and cozy ties with ruling party lawmakers.

Even if the South Korea-founded church loses its status in Japan under the court dissolution order, the families of its followers, who have faced financial and other hardships due to huge donations by family members, will be left with deep emotional trauma, and calls remain to provide them with more support.

Japan's education and culture minister Masahito Moriyama attends a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 12, 2023, after revealing his ministry's decision to seek to strip the scandal-hit Unification Church of religious corporation status. (Kyodo)

Uncertainty also remains about whether the latest development will give Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a much-needed boost in his sluggish Cabinet approval ratings as he considers the timing for a snap general election after struggling with revelations of dubious ties between his Liberal Democratic Party and the church.

While a law was enacted in December banning groups from maliciously soliciting donations, Makoto Yokomichi, an associate professor in linguistic culture at Kyoto Prefectural University, has warned the legislation could give the impression that the case is closed and said further legal support is needed to support victims.

The law was drawn up amid increased public scrutiny of the Unification Church after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot during an election campaign speech in July 2022 by a man who held a grudge against the religious organization.

Tetsuya Yamagami, who has been indicted over the incident, has claimed that his mother made considerable donations to the group, ruining his family's finances, while reportedly telling investigators that he targeted Abe as he believed the former premier had a close relationship with the Unification Church.

The new law partly intends to address the plight of "second-generation" followers, family members of those who believe in the church, by prohibiting religious groups from "misleading" people to solicit funds through various tactics, including "stoking fear."

But many lawyers have lambasted the hastily crafted law for having various deficiencies, noting that some adherents offer massive contributions to them "willingly."

A woman using the pseudonym Sayuri Ogawa, whose parents are followers of the Unification Church, said late last year that religious organizations are likely to discover "loopholes" in the new legal system to collect donations.

In an apparent bid to highlight that the government's response to the issue has been far from sufficient, the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan recently pledged to hammer out a bill to prevent the Unification Church from transferring its assets to other entities amid concerns the group may do so after it loses its religious corporation status.

"Legal measures are necessary" to ensure that assets of the Unification Church will "not disperse or disappear," as they can be used to support its victims, said Akira Nagatsuma, the opposition party's policy chief, promising to submit the bill to the upcoming extraordinary parliamentary session.

Akira Koike, head of the secretariat of the Japanese Communist Party, also said that issues surrounding the Unification Church will "continue to be an important topic" during the Diet session scheduled to kick off on Oct. 20.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meets the press at his office in Tokyo on Oct. 12, 2023, after the education and culture ministry revealed its decision to seek to strip the scandal-hit Unification Church of religious corporation status. (Kyodo)

The party will "grill" Kishida over the "collusive ties between the Unification Church and the LDP," Koike added.

After a yearlong probe, the Japanese government decided Thursday to ask the Tokyo District Court to revoke the religious corporation status of the church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Losing its legal status means the organization will be deprived of tax benefits. Although it can continue to exist as an arbitrary religious group, a government source said that the organization is expected to "weaken."

The church maintains that its activities do not meet the conditions for issuing a dissolution order, and the issue could go all the way to the Supreme Court, possibly taking years to reach a conclusion.

The Unification Church was established by a staunch anti-communist in South Korea in 1954 and earned its religious corporation status in Japan in 1964.

Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, supported an anti-communist political group linked to the Unification Church, which was established in Japan in 1968.

In Japan, the religious group fanned controversy through a scheme involving "spiritual sales" in the 1980s and attracted notoriety for its mass wedding ceremonies, with some Japanese celebrities participating in one held in Seoul in 1992.

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