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Japan’s court upholds rules of allegiance to anthem and flag


The high court in Tokyo has rejected the appeal of a Christian teacher, who was reprimanded for wearing a ribbon that she says stood for her pupils’ freedom from being required to show allegiance to Japan’s national anthem and flag.

"I take this [court’s] decision as a warning about the future direction of this country," said Miwako Sato, a 53-year-old Japanese music teacher and a member of the United Church of Christ in Japan.

Japan only officially adopted its anthem and flag as national symbols in 1999. Since then, municipal education boards have enforced their use at school admission and graduation ceremonies.

Opponents of the policy say the anthem and flag are symbols of the nation’s past quasi-religious militarism under the Japanese emperor, who was regarded as a living god during the Second World War.

Sato said she refused to play the anthem on the piano at graduation ceremonies in 2001 and 2002 at the school where she used to teach, despite having been ordered to do so by the school principal. She also said that when the flag was raised at the school’s graduation ceremony in March 2000, students were "shaken".

At that event, Sato wore a small blue ribbon on her chest, and explained that it stood for her constitutional right to freedom of thought, based on her Christian faith.

The city of Kunitachi in the western part of Tokyo issued a reprimand to Sato, and described the wearing of the ribbon as an expression of protest against the flag. By wearing it, Sato had breached her duty as a civil service employee, the city authorities stated.

In February 2004, Sato sued the city and Tokyo’s metropolitan government. She demanded compensation for psychological harm caused by the reprimand and by the repeated demands of the school principal to play the anthem against her will and faith.

The district court, however, rejected all the woman’s claims in July 2006. Sato appealed to the high court the following month.

During her lawsuit, Sato questioned the requirements for the anthem and flag, and said she was defending her constitutional freedoms of thought, conscience, expression and religion.

But the high court explained in its ruling on 28 June that the school principal’s act of directing her to play the anthem did not violate those freedoms. It was "duly possible" for her "to attend the ceremonies as her duty" and to follow the principal’s order to play the anthem, the court decided.

Sato said she had been hospitalised with bleeding of the stomach in March 2004 because of stress caused by the situation. "The court says that teachers should separate their real intentions from their external acts," she said, "but what gives me mental pains gives me physical pains, too."

(c) Ecumenical News International