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Tuesday, March 1, 2005
OFFICIALS TRYING TO 'OPPRESS' STUDENTS
No obligation to sing anthem: scholars
By ERIKO ARITA
Contrary to what the Tokyo metropolitan board of education says, teachers at metropolitan government-run high schools are under no legal obligation to force their students to sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem at graduation ceremonies, a group of six intellectuals said Monday.
In September, the board ordered the principals of about 200 high schools to tell teachers to instruct students to sing the anthem. The order was based on guidelines set by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
The order was reiterated early last month, ahead of March graduation ceremonies. According to the ministry guidelines, teachers must instruct their students to sing "Kimigayo" at graduation and commencement ceremonies. The guidelines are legally binding, according to ministry officials.
But Yoshifumi Tawara, a professor at Rissho University in Tokyo and one of the six intellectuals against requiring that students sing the anthem, said the curriculum guidelines have no legal power over the content of education that students receive.
He said that while "Kimigayo" is legally recognized as the national anthem, no law obliges teachers to force students to sing it.
"The board is trying to oppress students' freedom of thought and conscience by forcing them to stand and sing the song," Tawara told a new conference in Tokyo.
This freedom is guaranteed under the Constitution, he said.
The group submitted a request to the board of education on Feb. 16, demanding that it retract its order and that it refrain from punishing any teachers or other staff if students do not stand and sing.
The board has snubbed the request, the group said.
University of Tokyo professor Yoichi Komori, also a member of the group, criticized the board for abandoning its obligation to explain the parameters of freedom of thought and conscience.
He said the group has also demanded that an explanation be given to students and parents during graduation and commencement ceremonies.
Tawara said he fears teachers will be punished if they refuse to instruct students to sing the anthem at ceremonies.
About 250 teachers were punished by the board last year after they refused to sing the anthem or play its accompaniment on the piano.