US Church Must Pay $1.2 Million Japanese Judgment

A federal appeals court rejected religious freedom claims to hold a Japanese court judgment is enforceable against California’s Saints of Glory Church and it must return a $1.2 million donation to a Japanese citizen who gave it nearly all her assets.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, “In sum, the Japanese award cannot e said to fall into the narrow class of judgments that must be refused enforcement because [sic] repugnant to public policy.”

“Neither the law applied nor the particular judgment issues is ‘so antangonistic’ to the pulic policy embodied in the Religion Clauses… or so ‘inherently vicious, wicked or immoral, and shocking to the prevailing moral sense’ as to preclude recognition,” wrote Judge  Marsha Berzon for the panel.  She was joined by Judges Harry Pregerson and Susan Graber.

Naoko Ohno, a citizen of Japan, sued in Tokyo court, accusing Yuko Yasuma and the church in Japan, of inducing her to transfer all her assets to the Church.

The church contends the judgment imposes liability for its religious teaching, in violation of its constitutional right to free exercise of religion.

Ohno joined the church in 1994 while working in London.  She regularly participated in prayer meetings and bible study in the church’s program in Tokyo.  Members were required to tithe one-tenth of their incomes, which Ohno did.

Ohno remained obedient to Yasuma’s advice, including failing to visit her dying father or attend the funeral based on Yasuma’s negative comments about such a visit.  In addition, she stopped taking prescription medicine after Yasuma criticized it.

In 2002, Yasuma pressured Ohno to increase her giving to the church and over a span of two months Ohno closed her savings account and transferred 68.6 million Yen to the church, all her assets at the time.

She eventually came to believe she had been defrauded by the Church and in 2007 sued.

The Tokyo court ruled Ohno was illegally induced to make the donations and ordered the return of $1.2 million in 2009.

Ohno sued in U.S. court to enforce the foreign judgment.

Case:  Ohno v. Yasuma, No. 11-55081