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Topless activists on trial over Notre Dame protest

Associated Press Updated: July 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm

PARIS (AP) — French prosecutors want activists who bared their breasts in Notre Dame Cathedral to pay thousands of euros in fines for damages.

Nine activists from feminist group Femen pounded a huge church bell in the landmark Paris cathedral in February 2013 to express anger at the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage, and to "celebrate" the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

The activists, wearing T-shirts and garlands, went on trial in Paris on Wednesday in a case that pit arguments for freedom of speech against proponents of freedom of religion.

"We are asking for the reparation of moral and material damages because of damage done to the bells, and by extension to religious freedom in France," said a lawyer for Notre Dame, Laurent Devolve.

The prosecutor requested fines of 1,500 euros ($2,040) against each activist for charges of damaging property.

Femen leader Inna Shevchenko called for a larger discussion about the role of religion in France, which is strictly secular but has deep Roman Catholic roots.

"Religion is an untouchable subject. You can discuss whatever you want, but you cannot question if God exists or how absurd it is to apply rules or traditions of religion in secular state," she told reporters at the courthouse.

Also on trial were Notre Dame guards who pulled the activists off the bell, accused of acts of violence. The prosecutor requested suspended fines against the guards.

A verdict will be issued Sept. 10.

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