High court annuls punishment for teachers over Hinomaru, ‘Kimigayo’

The Tokyo High Court on Thursday annulled the disciplinary actions taken against all but one of 168 plaintiffs that include teachers who refused to stand up at the hoisting of the Hinomaru national flag and sing the “Kimigayo” national anthem at school ceremonies in Tokyo.

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

In a separate similar suit, the same high court panel also nullified disciplinary actions against two former school staffers.

In Thursday’s decision on an appeal from 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 hoisting of the national flag and sing the anthem at events such as graduation ceremonies.

Judge Ohashi said the instruction does not 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 had 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 up 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 up at the raising of the Hinomaru flag and sing the “Kimigayo” anthem.

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

The Hinomaru flag and “Kimigayo” anthem had long been regarded as Japan’s national flag and anthem, despite having no legal base. In the Diet enacted a law officially designating Hinomaru as Japan’s national flag and “Kimigayo” as its national anthem.

According to the Cabinet Office, Hinomaru is translated as the “Rising Sun” flag. “Kimigayo” is unofficially translated as “His Majesty’s Reign.”

But some people in Japan are opposed to the national flag and anthem because their links with past Japanese militarism.