We firmly appeal for adherence to the principle of separation of Government and Religion, which guarantees fre […]
We firmly appeal for adherence to the principle of separation of Government and Religion, which guarantees freedom of religion as one of the basic human rights
To Our Brothers and Sisters in the Church and To All People:
Two years ago, after 60 years from the end of World War II, we announced the message ” The Road to Peace Based on Nonviolence”, which brought up various viewpoints needed for peace building in modern society. In the message, we indicated that it is indispensable to strictly observe the principles of Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution ” separation of Government and Religion”, and to respect freedom of religion as one of the basic human rights, reflecting on our past history. Looking at the current situation in Japan, however, the move toward constitutional amendment is accelerating and Article 20 along with Article 9 has been discussed as the subjects of constitutional amendment. Under such circumstances, some governmental officials are repeatedly making comments contrary to the principles of separation of Government and Religion of the current constitution. Therefore we would like to announce once again the thoughts of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan regarding our critical issues, “freedom of religion” and “separation of Government and Religion.
The Catholic Church’s thoughts on religious freedom and separation of Government and Religion
The separation of Government and Religion is often misunderstood as “separation of religious life and political activities”, in other words that the religious organizations and individuals should not engage in political matters. However the principle of the separation of Government and Religion, which stipulates the relationship between states and religious organizations, does not prevents religious organizations and individuals from announcing and responding to political matters based on their belief. The Catholic Church rather realizes that it has important roles such as contributing to further spreading justice and love at home and abroad based on love of Christ (1), and making ethical judgment even on political matters, if needed for basic human rights and salvation.(2)
A relationship between state and religious organizations has been built up in the particular history of each country reflecting the forms of separation of Government and Religion and the Concordat. Originally these forms came into effect in modern times in order to secure religious freedom as one of the basic human rights.
With regard to religious freedom, the Catholic Church acknowledges and regrets that it lacked tolerance to others in its history of 2000 years.(3)
The Church reaffirmed in the Second Vatican Council (1962~65) that religious freedom is one of the basic human rights.(4) Every human as an individual or a member of an organization has freedom of religion as one of the basic human rights. This freedom means that regarding religious matters nobody will be enforced to act contrary to one’s conscience and nobody will be prevented from acting according to one’s own conscience.(5) Public authorities such as states should not invade or oppress this religious freedom but rather have responsibility to protect the freedom of religion.(6)
The Church and states are mutually independent and autonomous and should never be commingled. The Church must not be restricted by states.(7) If the Church and states cooperate with each other in a sound manner, they will be able to serve the wellbeing of all the people.(8) The Church acknowledges the legal authority of states, but if a policy of a state does not follow the will of God, the Church will choose to follow God. (9)
Religious Freedom in Japan
Looking back on the past Japanese history of Christianity, it can be said that the persecution and suppression against the believers and religious organizations by the state were caused by lack of religious freedom, lack of the idea of separation of Government and Religion and that there was only conditional religious freedom even if it existed.
In the Azutchi-Momoyama Era and at the beginning of the Edo Era, Japan advanced toward centralization. Christianity was regarded as an obstacle to such a move and was gradually expelled by the policymakers. An enormous number of people were martyred.
At the beginning of the Meiji Era, Christians in Urakami of Nagasaki region rose up and declared their faith. Triggered by this incident, many Christians suffered oppression from the Meiji government. Criticized by the western countries about this oppression, the Meiji government, which was advancing toward modernization, included religious freedom in the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. However it was conditional ” religious freedom” as stated, “Japanese subjects shall, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.” (10)
While Japan pushed forward vigorously into wars in the Showa era, the state was fully integrated with the national religion” Shintoism”, and people in not only Japan but also the Korean Peninsula were forced to pay homage at shrines. The Catholic Church was questioned whether it was right for Catholic students to pay homage at Yasukuni shrine. As the government’s control on religions tightened, it was such a crucial issue upon which existence of the Catholic Church in Japan was staked. Following the guideline of Propaganda Fide in those days, the Church acknowledged that the faithful paid homage at Yasukuni shrine, saying” The rituals that the government forced the students to do at the shrine are not religious,(11) but are “social courtesy” showing loyalty and patriotism to the Japanese Emperor.” In this way the Church headed toward cooperating in the war. After World War II, however, the Japanese Constitution was enacted, the The State Religion (State Shinto) was dissolved so that Yasukuni shrine became one of the religious organizations,(12) and the Second Vatican Council was held. Passing through these events the guideline of the Propaganda Fide in those days can not be applied to the current situation if it remains unchanged.
After World War II, Article 20 of Japanese constitution which specifies freedom of religion and the principle of separation of Government and Religion which guarantees religious freedom was enacted. Freedom of religion was guaranteed completely for the first time in the Japanese history by this article. This Article 20 was enacted strictly reflecting on the fact that the unity of the State and The State Religion (State Shinto) deprived lives and basic human rights of many people in Asia along with Japanese people.
Article 20. Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.
2. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice.
3. The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other
We demand adherence to the principle of separation of Government and Religion.
Freedom of religion and separation of Government and Religion are inseparable in Japan. They are also deeply connected with freedom of thought and conscience and freedom of speech. In this sense, the article is not completely unrelated to people with no religious faith, not to mention people with religious faith.
Recently, however, there are conspicuous opinions from the ideas that religious acts can be made by the State and public organizations within the limit of “practices of social courtesy or folkway”. The new draft constitution (13) derived from such an idea was announced as well. This idea reminds us of Japanese history in which many people were forced to pay homage at Yasukuni shrine in the name of “social courtesy” before and during the wars. Additionally there are also proposals to regard Yasukuni shrine as a defense of the nation’s political system or a non-religious organization. These trends possess a danger to advance the same roads as those of before and during the wars. These ideas insult the principle of separation of Government and Religion, and even jeopardize religious freedom as one of the basic human rights.
We, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan firmly appeal for adherence to the principle of separation of Government and Religion, which guarantees freedom of religion as one of the basic human rights, because the principle is essential for Japan to create peace with other Asian nations.