In a first-ever ruling on religious group tactics to canvass offerings, the Supreme Court on Sept. 18 upheld a high court decision that ordered a religious organization to pay 37.6 million yen in damages to two Fukuoka women who were coerced to donate their assets.

The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, generally known as the Unification Church, had appealed to the Supreme Court soon after the Fukuoka High Court ruled against the church in February 1996. After the Supreme Court rejected the group’s appeal Sept. 18, presiding Justice Masao Fujii said in a judicial opinion that the high court decision, which found the church’s canvassing tactics illegal, has enough reason to be justified.

Currently, more than 30 damages suits in connection with religious group canvassing tactics have been filed across the country, and the Sept. 18 ruling is expected to affect other pending cases.

According to the Supreme Court ruling, one of the plaintiffs was coerced to offer 30 million yen to the church in June 1988 after being told by a Unification follower at its Fukuoka branch, “You will suffer from misfortunes because of your ancestral karma.”

In January 1989, the other plaintiff was allegedly told by a follower, “The impression of your seal is so bad that misfortunes will come down on you.” She was later persuaded to offer the cult about 2.1 million yen in offerings and as participation fees for seminars organized by the church, the court said.

In May 1990, the two women filed a lawsuit against the Unification Church, seeking 49 million yen in damages. The Fukuoka District Court ruled against the cult and ordered it to pay compensation in May 1994, on the grounds that the church virtually forced the plaintiffs to offer their assets by confining them in small rooms in a church facility.

The district court decided the Unification Church’s canvassing tactics for offerings were illegal, saying that even though the tactics were based on the teachings of the church, they far exceeded any acceptable social standards. After the Fukuoka High Court upheld the lower court decision in February 1996, the Unification Church appealed to the Supreme Court.

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