The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit by 10 high school teachers who were denied postretirement employment after they refused to sing the national anthem during graduation ceremonies in March 2004.
The suit, filed against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which ordered all public school teachers in Tokyo to sing “Kimigayo” while facing the Hinomaru flag, had demanded a combined 30 million yen in damages.
The plaintiffs had argued that their re-employment contracts were annulled due to the metropolitan government’s directive, which they said violated their freedom of speech and conscience guaranteed under the Constitution.
The re-employment system for public school teachers in Tokyo, introduced in 1985, makes them eligible for contract renewals after they retire at age 60.
Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Samura ruled “the directive does not deny the plaintiffs’ rights.”
Samura ruled that singing the national anthem in school ceremonies does not force reverence of a specific ideology because it is a “ritual practice.”
He also said the annulment of the teachers’ re-employment contracts was a “legitimate exercise of discretionary power” because the plaintiffs had committed a violation of their duty.
Tatsuo Hiramatsu, a former chemistry teacher at Nogei High School, denounced the ruling, calling it “unacceptable and terribly wrong.” The 67-year-old plaintiff had his re-employment contract nullified on March 30, 2004, after he refused to stand for the anthem during a graduation ceremony.
Hiramatsu said the ruling was “politically influenced and biased” for approving the directive, and the plaintiffs have all agreed to immediately file an appeal.
According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, only two of 1,311 teachers who applied for re-employment between 2001 to 2003 were turned down. The directive was issued in October 2003.
The 10 plaintiffs, who filed the suit in June 2004, argued that their dismissal was triggered by a single breach of the directive and that the metropolitan government abused its power by nullifying their contracts.
Courts have issued dissimilar verdicts on the legitimacy of forcing teachers to sing “Kimigayo” during school ceremonies.
Last September, the Tokyo District Court ordered the metropolitan government to pay 12.03 million yen in compensation to 401 teachers who objected to the directive on grounds that it violates their freedom of thought and conscience. The metropolitan government has appealed.
However, the Supreme Court in February ruled against a 53-year-old teacher who refused to play the piano accompaniment to “Kimigayo” at a ceremony, stating it was part of her duties and did not infringe on her constitutional rights.
According to the activist group Organization of Reprimanded Teachers for the Retraction of the Unjust Punishment Involving Hinomaru & “Kimigayo,” 388 teachers have been punished under the directive since 2003.
The anthem and flag were recognized as Japan’s official symbols by the Diet in 1999, but they continue to court controversy due to their links to Japan’s militaristic past.