Constitutional Revision in Japan: The Risks for Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech

“It is up to the Japanese people to protect the freedoms they have come to value and which they have used in ways that benefit the entire world with Japanese creativity and insight.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and some of his political allies have worked hard to begin a process of Constitutional Revision that endangers not only Japan’s post war pacifist legacy, but also the fundamental freedoms of the Japanese people. Much of the attention has focused on Abe’s attempts to amend Article 9, often referred to as the “Pacifist” provision of the Constitution. Many Japanese people and politicians have strongly opposed any change to Article 9, and it is safe to say that Abe vastly underestimated the resolve of the Japanese people on this issue. Yet, like a shell game, while people try to follow the fate of Article 9, other risks are missed. Once the Constitution is open to revision, freedom of speech, which has already reached a postwar low in recent years, and freedom of religion, may be at risk. Professor Ravitch has argued elsewhere that Prime Minister’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine violate Articles 20 and 89 of the Japanese Constitution, but with Constitutional revision such visits might become ordinary and in fact, it would be possible for the government to fund these shrines to appease nationalists. In the last few years Japan has fallen to 59th in the world for freedom of the speech and the press according to Reporters Without Borders. It is far below every other major democratic country with similar economic status (and many non-democratic nations). With constitutional revision free speech and a free press may be further limited. Shadows of the Meiji Constitution, where personal freedoms were empty promises subsumed to state interests and nationalist fanaticism are rearing their heads. It is not just the risk to the Pacifist provision, which has already been all but ignored by the current administration, but to the Freedom of Speech and Religion that bring those shadows forward. It is up to the Japanese people to protect the freedoms they have come to value and which they have used in ways that benefit the entire world with Japanese creativity and insight.

Professor Frank S. Ravitch

Frank S. Ravitch is Professor of Law and the Walter H. Stowers Chair in Law and Religion at the Michigan State University College of Law, and Director of the Kyoto, Japan Summer Program. He is the author of several books: Marketing Intelligent Design: Law And The Creationist Agenda (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011); Masters Of Illusion: The Supreme Court And The Religion Clauses (NYU Press 2007); Law And Religion, A Reader: Cases, Concepts, And Theory, 2nd Ed. (West 2008) (First Ed. 2004); Employment Discrimination Law (Prentice Hall 2005) (with Pamela Sumners and Janis McDonald); and School Prayer And Discrimination: The Civil Rights Of Religious Minorities And Dissenters (Northeastern University Press, 1999 & paperback edition 2001). Professor Ravitch has also published a number of law review articles addressing US and Japanese constitutional law, law & religion and civil rights law in leading journals. Moreover, he has written a number of amicus briefs addressing constitutional issues to the United States Supreme Court.

In 2001, Professor Ravitch was named a Fulbright Scholar and served on the Faculty of Law at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. Currently, he directs the Michigan State University College of Law Japan summer programme. Professor Ravitch regularly serves as an expert for print and broadcast media, and speaks on topics related to US Constitutional Law, Japanese Law and Israeli Law to a wide range of national, international and local organisations. He speaks English, Japanese and Hebrew.

Professor Ravitch was a Featured Speaker at The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy 2015 (ACERP2015).

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