Japan's Constitution guarantees religious freedom.
However, half a year after the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, Aum Shinrikyo lost its legal status as a religious organization:
The doomsday cult accused in the nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways was ordered stripped of its religious status yesterday, clearing the way for the government to seize its assets.
A Tokyo judge ruled that the Aum Shinri Kyo cult did not deserve preferential legal and tax status because its members used cult facilities to make nerve gas.
The ruling by Presiding Judge Seishi Kanetsuki was the first time a Japanese religious group has lost its tax-exempt status. The group's 10,000 members still will be able to gather and worship freely.
Not surprisingly, the Japanese government even seriously considered disbanding the group altogether:
In a controversial move pitting public safety against religious freedom, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Thursday approved the use of a Cold War law to disband Aum Supreme Truth, the religious cult that allegedly launched a deadly poisonous gas attack on Tokyo subways earlier this year.
The approval by Murayama--whose Socialist Party has long opposed the anti-subversion law as a danger to democratic freedoms--gave police the go-ahead to seize the cult's assets and forbid members from practicing their religion. By late Thursday, police had seized $44,000 in cash, a Russian helicopter and personal computers, along with cult offices and property.
The sweeping move, taken after a seven-month investigation, marks the first time the powerful law has been used against an organization since its enactment in 1952 as a weapon against communism during the height of the Cold War. The law may be used if an organization is proved to have engaged in violent, subversive activities and if there is evidence that it will continue them in the future.
In announcing the move, Justice Minister Hiroshi Miyazawa said the cult still poses a public safety threat due to its anti-state ideology and suspected stockpiles of weapons and toxic chemicals. Cult leader Shoko Asahara and his followers are accused of killing 11 people and sickening more than 5,500 in the March poison gas attack. They are also suspected of killing seven people in a similar, June 1994 attack in the city of Matsumoto, and of slayings and kidnappings of anti-cult activists.
"There has not been the slightest change in Asahara's dangerous religious teachings and political ideology, or in the sect's absolute obedience to Asahara," Miyazawa said.
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