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Friday, Feb. 8, 2008

Teachers win lost pay over 'Kimigayo'

Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court on Thursday ordered the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to pay ¥27.5 million in lost wages to 13 former high school teachers who were denied postretirement re-employment because they refused to sing the national anthem.

The teachers had been reprimanded between November 2003 and March 2005 for disobeying a metropolitan directive issued in October 2003 that requires all teachers to stand and sing "Kimigayo" while facing the Hinomaru flag during official school ceremonies.

In bringing the suit, they had argued that being denied re-employment contracts was an illegitimate form of retribution by the metropolitan board of education and demanded combined compensation of ¥72.6 million for "emotional distress."

Presiding Judge Shigeru Nakanishi ruled that the denial of re-employment, based solely on the teachers' choice not to sing the anthem, was severely lacking in "justifiable reasoning."

The board "attached too much importance to the plaintiffs' violation of the directive while overlooking other factors regarding their employment records," Nakanishi said, adding that such an act did not benefit the re-employment system.

But while the plaintiffs argued that their constitutional right to freedom of thought and conscience had been violated, Nakanishi ruled that the directive does not "force reverence of a specific ideology."

Singing the anthem during school ceremonies is a ritual practice and the directive is "rational," the court ruled.

"I am glad the court ruled against the denial of re-employment, although I still believe the directive infringes on my constitutional right," plaintiff Hiroko Arai, 62, a former English teacher reprimanded in 2004, said after the verdict.

"I have no regrets about not abiding by the directive," Arai said.

Naoto Akiyama, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the justice system has "put a brake on the coercive acts of the board of education" but also said his clients were disappointed the court did not find the directive unconstitutional.

Under the metropolitan public school re-employment system, teachers are eligible for contract renewals after retiring at age 60. But 25 have been denied re-employment because of their refusal to sing "Kimigayo" during school ceremonies, Akiyama said.

The Diet in 1999 recognized "Kimigayo" and the Hinomaru as the country's symbols but both remain controversial because of their iconic association with Japan's militaristic past.

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The Japan Times

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