Catholic Church Forces Paris Boutique Into Criminal Court

PARIS, France—Though it was opened in 2008, the store at 69 Rue Saint Martin in Paris's 4th arrondissment is called "1969," possibly to remind customers and others of that era's growing sexual liberation movement (at least in the U.S.), and its main stock in trade are sex toys and lingerie—no XXX movies in sight.

Nonetheless, the mere fact that dildos, vibrators and penis pumps were within 200 yards from a "private middle school" (écritoire) and across the street from the Saint-Merri Catholic church has led to the shop and one of its managers, Nicolas Busnel, being put on trial, which began today, for  "installation of an establishment that has as its purpose the sale of objects with a pornographic character less than 200 meters [218 yards] from a school."

The complaint was filed by two Catholic groups, the CLER Love and Family Association (CLER) and the National Confederation of Catholic Family Associations (CNAFC), and the charges mean that Busnel faces up to two years in prison for his "crime" while the store could be fined as much as €40,000 (U.S. $53,000), to be split between the two organizations.

But wait: "objects with a pornographic character"?

"You can say that a sex shop is a 'love shop,' that a dildo is a 'sex toy'... but these are just words," said plaintiffs' attorney Henri de Beauregard. "The simple truth is that we have here a sex shop that sells pornography!"

"The problem is the presence of this kind of object in a window display that children pass by," CLER president Jean-Eudes Tesson told the newspaper Le Figaro. "That hijacks the work we are trying to do with them, to explain to them that the real sexuality is not in pornography."

Trouble is, 1969 has never displayed any of its toys in its window—the current display is a black armchair decorated with paper hearts and ribbons; no minors are allowed inside the shop... and French law has no definition for a "pornographic object."

Moreover, shop manager Valerie Levy stated that since its opening, the shop has received not a single complaint from its neighbors, and that, "Eighty percent of our clients are female. We have never been in the zone of vulgarity."

As trial opened, the store's attorney Richard Malka first moved for the dismissal of all charges, arguing that the law was unconstitutional, in part because of the lack of definition of "objects with a pornographic character." He also noted that were to court to limit the sale of sex toys within 200 meters of schools would mean that the only places in the city where they could be purchased would be "cemeteries, parks and on train tracks." (Paris has a lot of schools!)

But Malka's motion was rejected by the judge, and the trial proceeded. Witnesses will include Busnel himself, as well as a sexologist who will likely testify as to the absurdity of a piece of rubber or plastic being a "pornographic object."

"There are as many definitions of pornography as there are people," Malka told the court.