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Who Needs Religious Freedom?

Who Needs Religious Freedom?

(p.49) 2 Who Needs Religious Freedom?
Faking Liberties
Jolyon Baraka Thomas
University of Chicago Press

Japanese Buddhists developed sophisticated interpretations of religious freedom in response to three pressing legal issues in the late nineteenth century. First, a controversial decision concerning chaplaincy at the Sugamo Prison in northern Tokyo led Buddhists to decry Christians' ability to benefit from the constitutional religious freedom guarantee. Second, the prospect of "mixed residence" with foreign Christians, a result of bilateral treaty revisions long sought by the Japanese government, led Buddhists to advance the idea of making Buddhism Japan's sole "officially recognized religion" (kōninkyō). Finally, an 1899 executive branch attempt to pass comprehensive religions legislation elicited strident responses from Buddhists skeptical of the cabinet's interpretation of the meaning and scope of religious freedom. Buddhists generally agreed that they needed cutting-edge theories of religious freedom to press their case with the state, but they disagreed vehemently with one another about which interpretations worked best. As Buddhist interest groups vied with one another over differing conceptions of political supremacy and legal legitimacy, they generated competing understandings of religious freedom as political norm and apologetic tactic. These statist, corporatist, and civil libertarian interpretations of religious freedom deeply influenced later debates over Japanese politics and the social roles of religions.

Keywords:   religious freedom, customary rights, officially recognized religion, mixed residence, legislation, civil rights, statism, corporatism, latitudinarianism

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