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Jichinsai (Ground-purification Rites): Religious Ritual or Secular Custom?
From individual family homes to large-scale factories, new construction usually commences only after traditional Shinto ground-purification rites (jichinsai) have been performed. Construction itself is a dangerous undertaking, so from the standpoint of the workers involved, the ritual is indispensable for the peace of mind it offers. However, when it comes to facilities for national and local governments, concerns that such rites violate the separation of church and state have, in cases, led to court hearings. Jichinsai are performed by everyday Shinto priests, and are what academics define as "religious ritual," but in society at large they are generally regarded as merely custom.
   The Japanese Supreme Court, feeling that extending "separation of church and state" to include secularized religious rituals such as this one would be too strict an interpretation, handed down in 1977 what would become known as the "standard of intent and effect." In other words, it found that judgments on the religious nature of a certain act should be based on standard social conceptions, and must take into account the average person's estimation of the religiosity of the act, and the intent and the expected effect of the act.
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