172 teachers lose suit over ‘Kimigayo’

by Mariko Kato

The Tokyo District Court rejected a damages suit Thursday filed by 172 teachers who were punished for refusing to sing the “Kimigayo” national anthem at school events.

The suit, filed against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in February 2007, had demanded ¥550,000 in damages for each plaintiff and cancellation of their 2004 punishments, which ranged from warnings to reduced wages.

Presiding Judge Shigeru Nakanishi ruled that the metropolitan government directive ordering public school teachers to sing “Kimigayo” while facing the Hinomaru national flag at official school ceremonies does not violate the teachers’ freedom of thought and conscience as guaranteed by the Constitution, and that the punishments were legitimate.

The metro government introduced the controversial directive in 2003, allowing for strict penalties, including salary deductions and cancellation of rehiring contracts, for teachers who do not comply.

Many of the plaintiffs have since 2004 repeatedly refused to sing the anthem at ceremonies and received more severe punishments, the heaviest being one month’s suspension, according to Ken Shirai, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who denounced the ruling as “terrible.”

Shirai said the court was unable to see the essence of the matter.

“The court was unable to see that the directive does not ask teachers to simply teach students about the anthem and flag (and come up with their own thoughts), but forces one particular thought on them,” he said.

The teachers plan to appeal.

The Tokyo District Court has handed out mixed decisions on the legitimacy of forcing teachers to sing “Kimigayo” at school ceremonies, most of which are currently being considered by the Tokyo High Court.

The district court ruled in favor of 401 teachers who objected to the directive in 2006 and 13 former high school teachers who were denied postretirement re-employment in 2008.

In the intervening year, however, the same court rejected a lawsuit filed by 10 high school teachers who were denied postretirement re-employment and also ruled against 130 teachers who were forced to go through a retraining program.

Since 2003, 410 teachers have been reprimanded under the metropolitan directive, according to the Organization of Reprimanded Teachers for the Retraction of the Unjust Punishment Involving Hinomaru & Kimigayo.

Most have filed lawsuits demanding the metropolitan government withdraw the order.

The ruling comes just before more teachers are expected to be reprimanded for refusing to sing the national anthem at graduation ceremonies held earlier this month, according to the group.