The Japanese government on Friday filed a request with a court for an order to dissolve the Unification Church in a move that will deprive the group, known for its aggressive donation solicitations, of its tax benefits.
The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the decision to pursue a court order Thursday after a nearly yearlong investigation into the religious organization, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The request was filed with the Tokyo District Court.
Given the group has been found to have inappropriately solicited large donations from its followers since around 1980, some analysts have criticized the government for its failure to swiftly address the issues surrounding the Unification Church.
Following the filing of the request on Friday, culture minister Masahito Moriyama, who is in charge of religious issues in Japan, expressed regret about the government's delayed response, saying, "There are many aspects to reflect upon."
If the court accepts the government's request, the Unification Church, founded in South Korea by a staunch anti-communist in 1954, would lose its status as a religious corporation that enjoys tax advantages, although the organization could still continue its activities in Japan.
The Unification Church came under scrutiny after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot during an election campaign speech in July 2022 by Tetsuya Yamagami over his perceived links to the group.
Abe was allegedly targeted partly because his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped bring the church to Japan in the 1960s. Yamagami said his mother's massive donations to the Unification Church severely impacted his family.
Under Japan's legal system, relevant authorities are allowed to ask a court to revoke the status of a religious corporation if it "commits an act which is clearly found to harm public welfare substantially."
Since last November, the Cultural Affairs Agency has exercised its right to question the organization and obtain documents from it seven times, while also collecting statements from victims who were pressured into making huge donations.
As a result, the government said it has found repeated malicious and illegal acts within the Unification Church at an organizational level.
So far, only two religious groups have received a dissolution order from a Japanese court due to legal violations. One was the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which carried out the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and a number of other serious crimes.