• Kyodo

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The Matsuyama District Court on Friday ordered top officials of the village of Shingu, Ehime Prefecture, to pay around 15 million yen to the village to make up for their illegal use of taxpayers’ money to build a statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

The suit was filed by a group of five villagers who claimed that village Mayor Nobuichi Hokkyu and other local officials violated the Constitution, which stipulates the separation of religion and state, by using 15 million yen in tax money to build the 6-meter high statue.

Handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Tamon Toyonaga said, “The use of tax money to create the statue went against the principle of the separation of religion and the state and thus violated the Constitution.”

According to the court, the village spent 15.45 million yen to build the statue, which was completed in March 1997, within the premises of the village’s facility for tourists. The facility opened last May.

The mayor’s side had claimed the statue was intended as “an advertising pillar” to attract tourists to the facility and had nothing to do with religion.

However, the judge dismissed this argument, saying the religious significance of the statue could not be denied and thus the statue serves to promote the specific religion.

The judge also said the relationship between the village and the worship of the Goddess of Mercy statue has been more than appropriate socially and culturally.

He ruled that creation of the statue with taxpayers’ money constitutes a religious activity banned under the Constitution.

Commenting on the ruling, the mayor told reporters that he and the other defendants will appeal the case to a higher court.

Takeshi Hirano, a professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto and an expert on the Constitution and religion-related laws, said the ruling is appropriate and is expected to serve as a warning to other municipalities that spend tax money on religious-related events or rituals without due consideration.

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