From NSS Newsline - november 2009

Thursday 3 December 2009

Religion and state row in Japan

A row over separation of religion and the state has broken out in Japan after Ichiro Ozawa, secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, said in a speech in a Buddhist temple that Christianity was "a self-righteous religion that excluded other religions." He said Christianity was at a dead-end (or, in some translations, "at an impasse"). Islam was somewhat better, he claimed, but "it too excludes other religions." But he had fulsome praise for Buddhism, which he deemed "magnanimous."

Christians in Japan then accused Mr Ozawa of breaching article 20 of the Japanese constitution, which reads: "No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the state or exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious acts. The state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity."

Pastor Peter Teo of the Church of Our Saviour in Fujisawa, told the Japan Times: "Although I have great respect for Ozawa’s political skills, I believe his scathing remarks about Christianity are untrue and unbefitting a man of his political stature. As a politician, Ozawa has a responsibility to uphold Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution. Ozawa — as an influential member of state organs — is obliged to refrain from religious activity, which includes a public denunciation of Christianity. I hope Ozawa apologizes for his unkind and untrue statements."

Pressure to get Council prayers reinstated

A month after prayers at the beginning of Council meetings were dropped by Winscombe and Sandford Parish Council in Somerset, local vicars are pressing to have them re-instated.

The Council Chairman, Archie Forbes, said that the council had debated the issue of chaplains in October and had decided, in the light of the forthcoming Equality Bill, to discontinue the opening of council meetings with prayers. A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission confirmed they had written to all parish councils in April about the prospect of the bill extending protection against discrimination by age, religion, race, etc. However, the Bill has not passed through parliament yet.

The Rev Mike Slade — who is supported in his request by other clergy in the area — offered to lead prayers at the start of meetings. He said: "At a time when our villages have suffered much through unexpected deaths, road traffic accidents as well as the enduring effects of the recession, your decision has added to people’s feeling of dismay and hurt. That can be changed quite simply and I pray that wisdom and common sense will prevail as you consider this request."

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "These vicars have not yet said why on earth council business should be preceded by sectarian praying. Mike Slade’s manipulative and completely irrelevant plea is no reason at all. Why should atheists and non-Christians have to sit through prayers before they can get on with what they were elected to do?"