On June 14th, the Tokyo High Court handed down its decision in the appeal from the District Court in the case over the presidency of Jinja Honchō. The result was reported in the June 26th issue of Jinja Shinpō.
The appeal was rejected, so the High Court agreed that Revd Ashihara is not the new president.
Jinja Honchō was, of course, delighted by this. They sent out an announcement to all the Jinjachō saying that it was now clear that Revd Tanaka was the president, and that the chairman should appoint him as such, although he still had not done so. They also said that the whole problem started with Revd Ashihara trying to register a change in the head of the religious corporation, which is, to say the least, a tendentious reading of the situation. The announcement seems to have concluded by saying that they thought that the chaos in Jinja Honchō was now coming to an end, with Revd Tanaka as the new president.
That may have been premature. (If it wasn’t intended to be purely rhetorical in the first place.) Revd Ashihara’s supporters held a meeting, announced that they thought that the court had not properly addressed their claims about the difference between the religious corporation and the religious group, and gave notice of their intention to appeal to the Supreme Court.
I have no idea whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear it. Because the case does involve the distinction between a religious corporation and a religious group, which, as I have mentioned before, is an important point of law that is not as clear as it might be, it is possible that they will.
The court’s judgement was also printed in Jinja Shinpō, and it was interesting. It does not bode well for Revd Ashihara’s side, because the higher court accepted all the points made by the lower court, and simply supplemented them a bit.
One amusing point made was that the board of directors are elected in late May, and meet immediately to choose a new president. However, they do not technically take office until June 4th, and so they are not actually directors at that point, and thus, arguably, do not have the legal authority to choose a president. The court acknowledged that this might be true, but that it didn’t help the appellants, because they needed the appointment to have been discussed by the board of directors, so they also needed that meeting to be legally valid. Even if Revd Tanaka is not the new president, Revd Ashihara certainly isn’t. (Note that the court was only asked to rule on whether Revd Ashihara was the new president — in ruling that he is not, it remains neutral on who, if anyone, is.)
I foresee a revision to the regulations…
A second point was rather more significant. The court observed that, when Jinja Honchō revised its regulations in 1976, they removed the chairman from being the head of the religious corporation, as he had been previously. This was because they were concerned that he would get caught up in lawsuits. However, there is considerable evidence that he was intended to remain in charge of the religious side of the organisation. The court set this aside as irrelevant, as the decision purely concerned the appointment of the head of the religious corporation: the legal representative to the outside world.
This means that the court has definitely not said that Revd Tanaka has any religious authority within Jinja Honchō, and has rather strongly implied that he does not. The argument seems to be that it is precisely because he does not that the court only needs to consider the regulations of the religious corporation.
This is interesting, to say the least. It would mean that the president does not have the authority to rule on decisions about ritual practice, or the handling of omamori. Jinja Honchō does have the authority to rule on such things for affiliated jinja, but the court’s decision suggests that such decisions must be taken by the chairman, not the president or board of directors. This is something else that may need to be clarified, when relations within Jinja Honchō are a bit calmer.
Unsurprisingly, the court decision has not resolved the problem. The deep divisions within the Shinto community will not be solved by a court decision, even if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case.
It is more interesting that, as the announcement from Jinja Honchō implies, a court decision might not even solve the current legal impasse. The court has ruled that the chairman cannot appoint anyone other than the person elected by the board of directors. However, he does still need to appoint that person for them to take office. It is not clear what happens if he simply refuses to do so — something that certainly seems like a live possibility. I am not sure whether Jinja Honchō can sue the chairman to make him appoint the president, and even if, legally, they can, the whole point of removing the chairman from the legal structure was to avoid the risk of him being sued. If Jinja Honchō were to sue their own chairman, the internal reaction would be strong, and negative. If they just leave it, then Revd Tanaka continues as president pro tem. That seems like a very possible outcome, but it would not be any sort of resolution.
This is still a bad situation, although its influence on the thousands of priests who are just trying to keep their jinja going is fairly small. I hope that it can be resolved while that is still the case.