In early June, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional for a school principal to order teachers to stand and sing the national anthem “Kimigayo,” echoing a May 30 ruling by the court for a similar edict issued by the Tokyo Board of Education.
The court accepted that the plaintiff’s freedom of thought and conscience might have been “indirectly constrained,” but it justified its decision on the basis that teachers are required to fulfill necessary and rational obligations at school.
I find the court’s decisions and arguments deeply disturbing for two reasons: First, the rulings suggest not only that the policies of a school board or an individual principal are equivalent in authority to law, but that these policies can supersede rights enshrined in the Constitution of Japan. Furthermore, if the right to freedom of thought and conscience (Article 19) is limited to simply what people think, and does not respect their right to act on the basis of conscience, it renders the right meaningless.
Second, if teachers — and students — are compelled to stand and sing the national anthem, or any song, against their conscience and beliefs, it undermines one of the key goals of education — the personal development of critical thinking — and risks replacing it with bland indoctrination.
It also risks replacing patriotism and a love of one’s country that acknowledges both good and bad with a nationalism that is blind to the past. We are not free under the law to harm others, but the rulings of the Supreme Court have set a dangerous precedent. To limit the right to object, and to force people to act against their conscience, are coercive and a step backward.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.