The Supreme Court has ruled it is constitutional for school principals to order teachers to stand and sing “Kimigayo” in front of the Hinomaru flag at school ceremonies, rejecting a claim that it violates the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of thought and conscience.
The decision by the First Petty Bench on Monday, which followed a similar ruling by another top court panel on May 30, finalized the defeat of 13 former Tokyo teachers who had been disciplined between 2003 and 2005 for not following the order to stand and sing the national anthem at school ceremonies and been denied postretirement re-employment.
In demanding about ¥5.59 million each in damages from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, they argued that the order is unconstitutional, but the top court supported a Tokyo High Court ruling that determined the rejection of re-employment was a reasonable administrative discretion.
Among the five justices at the first bench, four went with the decision, but Justice Koji Miyakawa demanded the case be sent back to the lower court, arguing it should be examined if there were alternative measures other than issuing the order.
Miyakawa was a lawyer before serving as a top court justice.
The majority view noted that while the plaintiffs’ freedom of thought and conscience may have been “indirectly constrained” to a certain extent, it was within “an acceptable degree” given the “necessity and rationality” of such an obligation.
In an earlier decision, the Tokyo District Court ordered the metropolitan government to pay some ¥27.5 million in total to the plaintiffs, while acknowledging the constitutionality of the order, on the grounds that it overstepped its discretionary power.
The district court said the metropolitan government had placed too much value on the plaintiffs’ punishment records while neglecting to pay attention to their service records in considering whether to rehire them.
Two more rulings over the order are expected to come from the Supreme Court’s Third Petty Bench on June 14 and 21, the latter being the final in a series of similar cases at the top court, and they are expected to support the constitutionality of the order.