I have written a few articles on this blog about the important court case that is currently causing problems for Jinja Honchō. In brief, a senior employee raised concerns about possible corruption in a real estate transaction, and was fired for it. He, and another employee, sued Jinja Honchō, asking the court to confirm that the firing was void, and that they were still employed. They won. Jinja Honchō decided to appeal, a decision that was controversial even within the Board of Directors, and even more controversial outside: about a third of the Oversight Council were opposed.
On September 16th, the Tokyo High Court delivered its decision. The appeal was, for the most part, rejected. A couple of minor revisions were made to the language of the original judgement, because the High Court agreed with the lower court that there was no good evidence of corruption, but thought that the original language might suggest that there was. However, there was no change to the main decision, and the dismissal and demotion were both voided. This decision was reported in the September 27th issue of Jinja Shinpō.
On September 24th, there was an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors to decide how to respond, and this was reported in the October 4th issue of Jinja Shinpō. To start with the conclusion, they voted to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The meeting started with Jinja Honchō’s lawyers explaining the judgement and the legal implications. It is possible to appeal from the High Court to the Supreme Court, but you need particular sorts of legal grounds — the Supreme Court won’t hear your appeal just because you don’t like the result. One lawyer said that they might be able to challenge the grounds given for the verdict, because the judgement did not specify why the land might have seemed to be sold cheaply, while the other said that there was an important principle of interpretation at stake. Both agreed that Jinja Honchō was unlikely to win an appeal, but that there was a real possibility that the Supreme Court would agree to hear it.
The President of Jinja Honchō opened proceedings by expressing scepticism that an attempt to construct a majority could really be regarded as public interest whistleblowing, but asked for opinions. These were divided.
On the side in favour of appealing, there seem to have been two main arguments. One was that Jinja Honchō needed to make its case, because some people thought that the directors had been corrupt. The other was that priests should not be treated like ordinary employees, and what would happen if the same ruling were applied to other jinja. (It would mean that the chief priest couldn’t fire a priest for publicly accusing him of embezzling the jinja’s funds, unless the priest had no grounds at all for the accusation. I’m not sure that thinking this is a problem is a terribly good look. There is also a possible issue that, if labour laws on working hours and minimum wages were applied to jinja, even fewer would be viable than are at present. However, those are different laws, and not directly relevant to this case.)
The argument against appealing was, basically, that they should concentrate on trying to heal the rifts in Jinja Honchō. Given that they were almost certain to lose, and that very few priests across the country wanted the case to continue, that would be best achieved by accepting the verdict and talking to the other side.
After they had voted to appeal, the Chairman of Jinja Honchō, who formally outranks the President, made it clear that, although he had no vote, he was opposed to the appeal.
So, what does this mean? It means that there is a serious schism at the top of Jinja Honchō, for a start, because the Chairman publicly disagreeing with the President like that is extremely unusual. There is a meeting of the Oversight Council in a couple of weeks (on the 20th), and that will definitely not be an anodyne rubber stamp event as it has often been in the past. One of the motions sent by members, as mentioned in a previous post, is effectively a motion of censure of the Board of Directors. I suspect I will get to write an interesting post about that at the beginning of next month.
As for the appeal, the Supreme Court might well agree to hear it. The case can be framed as asking whether someone is protected by the whistleblower protection law even if they have made a reasonable mistake, and that is something that it is important to clarify. I strongly suspect that the Supreme Court would uphold the decisions of the lower courts, but it is the sort of question that they might think it is worth addressing directly. Of course, it is also possible that the events of the Oversight Council will result in the appeal being withdrawn.
We shall have to see.