After a heated debate that pitted religious leaders against political kingmakers, the upper house of the Japanese parliament on Friday passed a government-proposed bill to tighten control over religious groups.
Japan's ruling coalition initiated the legislation to revise the 1951 Religious Corporations Law after a deadly nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system last March, allegedly by the Aum Supreme Truth religious cult.
The revised law shifts jurisdiction of religious groups operating in more than one prefecture, or state, from local governments to the Education Ministry, requires religious groups to submit detailed financial documents and allows authorities to demand information from religious groups if they suspect the groups to be involved in "questionable" activities.
Many analysts, however, suspect that the Liberal Democratic Party rammed the law through to hobble their political opponents, the New Frontier Party, before next year's general elections. The conservative New Frontier Party made a stunning political showing in this summer's upper house elections after merging with the Clean Government Party, which enjoys the strong support of the Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai.
Since then the Liberal Democrats have seized upon the Soka Gakkai issue as a weapon in their battle against the New Frontier Party.
Last week they tried to call Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai's charismatic former president and spiritual leader, to testify before parliament.
The New Frontier Party was so infuriated that more than 100 party members physically blocked an upper house panel chairman from leaving his parliamentary chambers for four hours on Nov. 28 so he could not open a session to demand Ikeda's testimony.
Einosuke Akiya, Soka Gakkai's president, testifying before an upper house panel on Monday, accused the Liberal Democrats of "threatening the freedom of belief" for political gain.
Already the three-party coalition has included as part of the fiscal 1996 tax reform a plan to modify the preferential tax system applied to religious and nonprofit groups and to require large-revenue organizations to disclose financial statements.
The New Frontier Party charges that the proposed tax hike on nonprofits is clearly aimed at weakening the financial base of the well-endowed Soka Gakkai.