Freedom of Religion, Religious Political Participation, and Separation of Religion and State: Legal Considerations from Japan

Article excerpt

This article examines the misuse of religion for political ends and the necessity for legal mechanisms that can prevent such misuse. In particular, I consider Japan's experience witii State Shinto, which serves as a useful illustration of the dangers incident to religious states. This is not to say that all theocratic or semi-theocratic states would necessarily share Japan's experience.1 Rather, I seek to illustrate some possibilities for Japan's future by considering Japan's past, and to make some recommendations for Japan's future to prevent the past from being repeated.

State Shinto is a branch of the Shinto religion, a faith unique to the Japanese people. For about fifty years leading up to and including World War II, State Shinto was the de facto state religion of Japan, and it played a large role in the formation of militarism in Japan. The Japanese would do well to learn from this part of their history and act to ensure freedom of religion by further codifying separation of religion and state.

Part I of this article discusses the relevant provisions of Japan's Constitution as it relates to freedom of religion. It also provides a brief historical context by explaining how State Shinto influenced and was influenced by the Japanese political system prior to and leading up to World War II. Part II explains how the religion clauses in Japan's post- World War II Constitution were a reaction to State Shinto and then detafis how Japan's Supreme Court has interpreted diese constitutional provisions. Part III argues for the adoption of a new code to more effectively ensure freedom of religion and separation of religion and state in Japan. Given the current interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions, this new code significantly advances both freedom of religion and separation of religion and state.

I. Freedom of Religion and Religious Political

PARTICIPATION IN JAPAN

A. The Legal Structure of Freedom of Religion in Japan

The Constitution of Japan has several clauses intended to guarantee freedom of religion and separation of religion and state. The Constitution specifies that "freedom of religion is guaranteed to all."2 In addition to the freedom to believe and practice the religion that one desires, freedom of religion is also understood to include a right of political participation.3 Those who share similar beliefs are able to form religious associations; they may participate in proselytizing activities to spread their religion; and they may work toward the realization of such a society as is desirable according to their religion.4 As political participation is often necessary for this third aspect of religious freedom to have effect, it is an understood part of that freedom, though not explicitly stated in the Constitution.

If religious adherents refrain from interfering with public welfare, they do not violate the Constitution when they seek to realize dieir religious goals by participating in politics.5 Consequently, Japanese religious associations can become political powers. In Japan's democratic system, when a large enough number of people share the belief of a particular religious association and vote as a block in elections, they can - and do - add their religious hue to the colors of political power.

Japan's poütical landscape is generously colored with religious politics. An obvious example is the ruling coalition of the current government. The Liberal Democratic Party's coalition partner, New Komeito, is backed by a Buddhist sect called Soka Gakkai. The Söka Gakkai first entered politics in the 1950s; their goals then and now being to challenge government corruption by bringing more ethical individuals into the political arena, to represent the voice of ordinary people, and to protect the freedom of religion.6 The Soka Gakkai started fielding candidates to run in local elections in 1955 and in national elections a year later.7 Over time, and through their political partnerships, the Söka Gakkai has gained some power. …