LDP reviewing constitutional separation of religion and state

A ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) panel is considering loosening constitutional separation of religion and state, party sources said.

The move is aimed at settling a longstanding dispute over the constitutionality of Japan's prime ministers' official visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine where the war dead, including Class-A war criminals are enshrined.

The LDP Research Commission on the Constitution is considering revising Clause 3 of Article 20 to allow the state to be involved in religious activities that are not aimed at propagating specific religions.

Moreover, the panel is set to propose to amend Article 89 to lift a total ban on use of public funds for any religious organization.

The move is expected to stir controversy over compromising separation of religion and state that was incorporated into the post-war Constitution because of the government's use of Shintoism to stir its wartime ultra-nationalism and militarism.

The Constitution strictly prohibits the state from being involved in religious activities.

"The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity," Clause 3 of Article 20 states.

Moreover, Article 89 bans the government from expending or appropriating public money or other property for use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association.

However, a large number of LDP legislators insist that prime ministers' visits to Yasukuni Shrine and use of public funds for Shinto-style ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of government buildings do not fall under religious activities that the Constitution bans the government from being involved in.

Moreover, a member of the commission has called it into question whether the government should be barred from being involved in ceremonies based on Japan's culture and tradition simply because they are religious activities.

However, the LDP panel has so far failed to show specific criteria for judging whether activities are aimed at propagating specific religions.