Japanese Court Rules Against Leader's Shrine Visits

The Japanese prime minister's yearly visits to a shrine in honor of the millions who died during World War II, including war criminals, violates the nation's constitution, a Japanese court has ruled.

Judge Kiyonaga Kamegawa ruled April 7 that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine amounted to religious activity in violation of the church-state separation provisions of Japan's Constitution.

Koizumi has gone to the Yasukuni Shrine four times since becoming prime minister. Those visits have drawn protests in China, which was occupied by Japan during the war. Some Japanese citizens also were angered. The court's ruling was prompted by a lawsuit on behalf of more than 200 citizens who argued Koizumi's trip to the shrine in 2001 violated the constitutional separation of religion and state.

The prime minister told reporters he would not stop his visits to the shrine.

"I don't know why it violates the constitution," he said. "I go there as prime minister and as an individual. I'm both a public and private person. I will continue my visits there."

The case has been appealed to Japan's supreme court.