Japan’s Top Court Rules Against Shrine

A Christian man has won a lawsuit in Japan’s highest court against a mayor who allowed the free use of government land for a Shinto shrine.

In its Jan. 20 decision, Japan’s Supreme Court, called the Grand Bench, said the no-cost land grant to the Sorachibuto Shinto Shrine by the city of Sunagawa, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, “clearly violates clauses on the separation of religion and politics” under the country’s constitution.

The court cited article 89 of Japan’s Constitution, which says, “No public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association, or for any charitable, educational or benevolent enterprises not under the control of public authority.”

The court also cited a part of the constitution that says, “No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.”

But the top court refrained from ruling that the shrine must be removed. Instead, it ordered a lower court to retry the case and look for ways to resolve the matter in way that respects the constitution.

“There are options to eliminate the state of unconstitutionality, such as the city making a lease contract with the shrine or to sell the facility to the shrine besides ordering the shrine to move out,” the court majority declared.

That portion of the ruling riled plaintiff Sakae Taniuchi

“I am convinced that we have won regarding the unconstitutionality,” Taniuchi, a member of the Church of Christ in Japan, told Ecumenical News International. “But I feel very angry about the fact that the court said that the unconstitutionality could have been avoided through certain means. The court should not say such a thing.”