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The Tokyo High Court has annulled the disciplinary actions taken against all but one of 168 plaintiffs, including teachers, who refused to stand for the raising of the national flag and singing of the national anthem at school ceremonies in Tokyo.

The decision Thursday by the three-judge high court panel presided over by Judge Hiroaki Ohashi overturned a 2009 Tokyo District Court decision that ruled unfavorably for the plaintiffs, but it turned down their demand for ¥550,000 in damages per plaintiff.

In a similar suit, the same high court panel nullified disciplinary action against two former school employees.

In the decision on the appeal by the 168 plaintiffs, the high court defended a notice from the head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s office of education that instructed school principals to make teachers and school clerks stand up at the raising of the Hinomaru flag and sing “Kimigayo” at events such as graduation ceremonies.

Ohashi said the instruction doesn’t itself run counter to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience.

However, local authorities’ disciplinary actions represent an abuse of authority, the judge said, noting the plaintiffs acted in accordance with their own views and beliefs and did not intend to disrupt school ceremonies.

In March 2009, the Tokyo District Court rejected the suit, saying the plaintiffs apparently neglected to abide by principals’ orders for them to stand and sing.

The high court findings showed that the head of the metropolitan government’s office of education issued an instruction in October 2003 demanding all participants at commencement and enrollment ceremonies stand at the raising of the Hinomaru and sing “Kimigayo.”

The plaintiffs, who refused to stand and sing at such ceremonies from 2003 to 2004, were reprimanded or received salary cuts in punishment, according to Thursday’s ruling.

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