Although the 38-year-old former senior cultist is no longer a lawyer nor an Aum follower, his desire to exercise his legal expertise was apparent Friday as he testified in the trial of cult founder Shoko Asahara before the Tokyo District Court.

When asked by the prosecution his opinion of the cult and Asahara’s teachings, Aoyama said it is “constitutionally inappropriate” to debate religion in court. “Are you saying you can’t say yes or no (on whether you still believe in Asahara’s teachings)?” a prosecutor pressed on. “Such a question itself is inappropriate,” he replied matter-of-factly.

At the beginning of the hearing, Aoyama said he quit the cult in October 1995 to “take social responsibility” for the crimes he was indicted for.

Aoyama stands accused of several charges, including attempted murder of lawyer Taro Takimoto, attempted fraud and hiding a person wanted by the police. He also cited his wish to take social responsibility as a reason for relinquishing his status as a lawyer in June 1995.

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