The Japanese people breathe easier now that Shoko Asahara and six of his disciples are locked up and charged with murder in the March 20 gas attack that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 on the Tokyo subway. Another nine disciples are charged with manufacturing deadly sarin gas that would have been used in subsequent attacks.
Society must protect itself. It must establish the certitude that calling your association a religion does not license you to harm people or to break laws that are binding on others. A claim to possess spirituality provides no blanket immunity for immoral, anti-social or criminal behavior.
Were the Japanese people now to reconsider, they would certainly wish that authorities had acted earlier, within Japanese law, to investigate the Aum Shinri Kyo cult.
There was reason enough in the reports of children abused and kept unfit for school or life outside the cult. There were disappearances of persons who attempted to leave the cult or to help the egress of others, with suspicions of kidnapping and murder that are still not resolved. And it is now known there were preparations of weapons of mass destruction that are no one's right to possess under the law of any nation.
A cult's apocalyptic fantasies of an oppressive state must not be allowed to justify arming and battle against that state or blaming that state for the confrontation the cult precipitates. A martyr complex confers no legitimate martyrdom.
A group that does not allow anyone to leave, that grants to itself the right to imprison, deserves the attention of law enforcement authorities even if it has not attempted mass murder and even if it piously describes itself as a religion.
Minorities, even despised minorities, have rights in civilized societies including the right to be left alone, providing they leave others alone and are held together by the free will of their members. A group that oppresses members or nonmembers cannot rightly claim to be persecuted when the law pays proper attention to its crimes.
The Japanese police and prosecutors have done thorough and painstaking work -- starting too late for those who died -- to protect their citizens from an internal cancer.
They would be violating no human rights or civil liberties to insure that the next attack on citizens by some mad or evilly possessed sect declaring war on society is prevented rather than prosecuted after the fact.