In a gesture seen as widening the political freedom of teachers, the Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled that banning teachers from creating or joining political organizations is unconstitutional.
The nine-justice panel made the ruling in a 6-3 vote in response to a complaint filed by nine teachers over a public servant law. A vote of two-thirds is required to reverse a ruling.
Article 65 of the State Public Officials Act mandates that "no public official may participate in an organization of, or join in, any political party or other political organization."
The Constitutional Court found that this clause infringes upon teachers' freedom of political expression and right to take part in organizations.
"The State Public Officials Act specifies organizations that (they) are banned from joining as 'political parties or other political organizations,' but a criteria distinguishing a 'political' and 'non-political' organization cannot be derived without any limitation on the purpose or activities of an organization," it said.
The panel also voiced concern over the unclear definition of "other political organization" affecting judgment.
The three justices who opposed the opinion, however, said allowing teachers to join political organizations may cause confusion at schools and affect the public's trust in the political neutrality of education.
The court, meanwhile, ruled in favor of another law that bans civil servants and elementary and middle school teachers from becoming a party organizer or member.
The clause is aimed at guaranteeing the political neutrality of teachers and also securing neutrality in education, the court said, saying both the purpose and method are constitutional.
Umbrella organizations for teachers said Thursday's ruling marks a development but stressed that more time is needed to assess its impact.
They also said the legal scope of "political organization" still remains unclear. (Yonhap)