• Kyodo

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The Fukuoka District Court ruled Tuesday that it was constitutional for the Kitakyushu Municipal Government to have ordered teachers to sing “Kimigayo” at school ceremonies, rejecting the teachers’ claim for damages over pay cuts and reprimands for refusing to sing the national anthem.

The court, however, ordered the city to rescind salary cuts imposed on some of the teachers, citing abuse of discretion by the local government, while refusing to nullify the reprimands against the other teachers.

Eighteen elementary and junior high school teachers and a teachers’ union in the city filed the lawsuit in 1996, seeking to invalidate the salary cuts and reprimands, claiming they were unconstitutional and demanding about 1.6 million yen in compensation for distress.

According to the ruling, the plaintiffs received admonitions or pay cuts for refusing to follow an order by school principals to stand up and sing the national anthem at entrance and graduation ceremonies between 1985 and 1999.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Kiyonaga Kamegawa said, “Ordering (teachers to sing the anthem) does not violate Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience.”

Kamegawa also said the order was rational and not an abuse of the city government’s discretionary powers.

The plaintiffs had argued that the national anthem has a religious flavor because it is linked to the Imperial system and that forcing them to sing it infringes on their freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in the Constitution.

The court said it is appropriate for the city government to have issued admonitions to some of the teachers for their refusal to sing “Kimigayo” but ruled that the city government abused its discretionary power by cutting other teachers’ salaries as punishment.

Maki Takemori, head of the teachers’ union, welcomed the court order to invalidate pay cuts, saying the ruling serves as a brake to some degree on local governments imposing unreasonable punishments.

Takemori, however, said the plaintiffs will appeal the ruling on the constitutionality of the municipal government ordering teachers to sing the anthem.

The court also said that singing “Kimigayo” has some educational effect, but the education ministry’s curriculum guidelines do not have any binding power to oblige principals and teachers to sing the anthem at school ceremonies.

Guidelines from the education ministry stipulate that teachers should provide instruction on the Hinomaru flag and “Kimigayo.” They urge public schools nationwide to display the flag and let teachers and students stand and sing the national anthem.

The city government had claimed in the lawsuit that the reprimands are legal because the teachers abandoned their duties to teach their students to have respect for the national anthem.

The Hinomaru and “Kimigayo” were defined by law in 1999 as Japan’s national flag and anthem, but they remain controversial due to their symbolic links to the Imperial system and Japan’s militarist past.

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