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At risk to their careers and salaries, a group of public school teachers in Tokyo who defied a rule obliging teachers to sing the national anthem during this year’s school ceremonies renewed their call Thursday for its abolishment.

At a news conference, three high school teachers expressed outrage over what they call the state’s instillation of nationalism into education, which they insist endangers democracy.

On March 24, the Tokyo Board of Education penalized three teachers from two public schools who refused orders to stand and sing the Kimigayo anthem at March graduation ceremonies, claiming the flag and anthem connote Japan’s militaristic past.

This recent case only adds to the long-running dispute between the state and public school teachers who claim that being obliged to sing the anthem, and being penalized for refusing to do so, violates their human rights as well as Japan’s Constitution.

The group also said the central government’s control over what happens in schools and whether teaching methods are in line with its directives has become stricter over the years.

Insubordinate teachers, following a warning from the education board, are forced to attend three-month indoctrination sessions intended to alter their attitudes, they said, adding that such seminars are stressful.

The group fears this trend will continue now that the voting age has been lowered to 18 and amid the coming into effect on Tuesday of two new security laws that allow the government to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

“If teachers cannot express their own views, it’s not education,” said Sawa Kawamura, one of the penalized teachers.

Under the national curricula guidelines for schools, all public school teachers are obliged to sing Kimigayo while facing the Hinomaru flag during official school ceremonies.

“It is a government directive that must be obeyed by all public school teachers,” a Tokyo education board official told The Japan Times. He refused, however, to comment on the controversy surrounding the issue.

Those who do not abide by the order are given warnings from their local education boards, which monitor schools through board officials dispatched to observe ceremonies, or via reports from school principals.

The rule has been a source of national controversy since Tokyo adopted it as an addition to its guidelines in 2003.

From that time, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, disciplinary action has been taken against 461 teachers, including the trio.

The penalty is reflected in teachers’ performance evaluation and in most cases they face pay cuts as a result.