On February 21, the House of Bishops and the Justice and Peace Committee issued a statement on the ‘Emperor’s abdication and enthronement,’ “The country’s involvement in the Daijo-sai (the festival to celebrate the succession of the emperor) violates the Separation of Church and State.” It pointed out that spending government expenditure on the festival as a public event is against the “security of freedom of religion and Separation of Church and State” as stated in Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan. In addition, we strongly protest and are deeply concerned that by placing the festival as a public event, the image of the emperor is instilled as a special presence, and furthermore as an image of deification.
When a church makes a political statement, one might see such criticism as “violation of the separation of Church and State” with quotes from Matthew 22:21 of the Bible, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” However, the separation of Church and State, in our country, is inseparable from freedom of religion, and it is deeply related to thoughts and both freedom of religion and speech. Article 20 of the Constitution is stipulated as follows.
Constitution 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 the religious education or any other religious activity.
As stated in Article 20 Clause 3 of the Constitution, the separation of Church and State means that the State is separated from religion. What is being said is the separation of “State and religion,” a principle that denies the State’s involvement in any specific religion, and guarantees the freedom of religion, one of the basic human rights. Although the kanji “sei” (meaning to govern) is used in the Japanese word for the “separation of Church and State,” the kanji “sei” is neither “seiji” (politics) nor “seito” (political party). It does not mean the separation of “politics and religion.”
Referring to the latter part of Article 20 Clause 1 of the Constitution of Japan “no religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority,” it seems to arise a misunderstanding that it goes against the separation of Church and State law when a religious organization is involved in political activities. This provision prohibits religions to receive privileges from the State and demonstrates the religious neutrality of the State.
The separation of Church and State sought by the spirit of the Constitution of Japan is stipulated from reflecting on the unified State and State Shinto infringing the basic human rights of many people in Asia and the people of Japan before the war. We cannot omit this and think about the separation of Church and State and the freedom of religion. Again, it is demanding the religious neutrality of the State, not the political neutrality of the religious people.
Rather, the Constitution of Japan guarantees “freedom of assembly and association,” and religious groups also have their freedom of assembly and association. Those who believe in God are certainly free to gather and organize religious groups, and no one is prohibited from participating in political activities based on their own faith.
If anything, churches, not bound by the political system, will tell the words of God through gospel preaching. Our showing the values of Christ to the world based on the words and deeds of Jesus, is an important responsibility of our churches.
Therefore, the church has no choice but to express the intention to this “statement on the emperor’s abdication and enthronement” since Christian churches in the past permitted the adherents to visit shrines as a “social etiquette.” It is part of a reflection on the fact that we have cooperated in moving forward with the war through the united Japanese nation and State Shinto and the failure to fulfill our prophetic mission.
Basic human rights were given to us by God. When the country neglects the Separation of Church and State and tries to violate the basic human rights, the church must play a role as a prophet to correct it according to the words of the Bible.
Revd Ambrosia Kaori Goto
Nagoya St. Mark’s Church, Aichi St. Luke’s Church