Moonies' leader cancels his visit to Britain

Home Office ban: Despite a court victory, the controversial cleric disappoints his followers in the face of Howard's opposition
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The Independent Online
DANNY PENMAN

The Moonies' founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, yesterday cancelled his visit to Britain after the Home Secretary refused to lift a ban on his entry to the UK.

On Wednesday, the Unification Church won a legal victory over Michael Howard, when the High Court ordered him to reconsider the block on Mr Moon's visit.

But Mr Howard, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, ruled out lifting the ban.

The Home Secretary said: "The ban is still in force. The ban has not been set aside. I do not intend to set it aside." The Home Office said it was quite happy to receive a fresh application from Mr Moon, but added: "We do not intend to set the ban aside."

The apparent refusal by the Home Office to reconsider the ban has angered the church's leaders. Mark Brann, president of its UK branch, said: "We regard it as a very serious matter when you have a Home Secretary who says he's the guardian of the law and then goes ahead and effectively disregards it." Mr Moon was due to arrive in Britain today and hold a service for 1,200 followers in central London tomorrow. The church claims 700 followers in the UK and about 4m world-wide. Members of the church claim to be Christian, but elements of Confucianism and Buddhism are both incorporated into its teachings. It has been the target of allegations that it has broken up families and also that it has "brain-washed" followers. Home Office statistics paint a different picture and show that few of those initially attracted to the church join it, and that 90 per cent of those who do join leave within two years.

Mr Moon is the central figure of the church and his exclusion will prove a deep disappointment to his followers.

Mr Brann said: "If you regard someone as your spiritual leader and inspiration, then it's a great disappointment if he's excluded from the country.

"Mr Howard should not interfere with religious freedom. He's our Secretary of State as well - not just the Secretary of State for Mail on Sunday or Daily Mail readers."

The Moonies are now planning to try and build a more persuasive case over the coming weeks in an attempt to persuade the Home Secretary to grant Mr Moon an entry visa.

Mr Brann said members of the church were planning to recruit "Nobel Laureates and statesmen to their cause".

He also dismissed the allegations used by the Home Secretary to justify the refusal of an entry visa to Mr Moon.

"It's certainly unfortunate that the church in its immaturity experienced a number of mistakes and that is entirely regrettable. Unfortunately, that reflects badly on our founder, who never had any intention of breaking up families."

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