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Judge Rejects Claims of the Sex Church

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A religious group that claimed to absolve the sins of male worshipers by sexual intercourse with a female priestess is nothing more than a scam intended to hide the operation of a brothel, a federal judge said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge William M. Byrne Jr. rejected arguments by Will and Mary Ellen Tracy of Canyon Country, who filed a civil suit to prevent the Los Angeles Police Department and city attorney’s office from investigating or prosecuting their Church of the Most High Goddess.

The Tracys, convicted of prostitution charges last September, said U.S. constitutional guarantees protect the practice of what they claimed were ancient religious rites.

During six days of testimony, Will Tracy, 52, said he received a revelation from God in 1984 to re-establish a religion he says was practiced in ancient Egypt. According to the revelation, his wife was required to have sex with 1,000 men to achieve her status as high priestess of the church.

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“I find that their testimony is incredible,” Byrne said in his ruling. “The religion had really no basis to it other than sexual conduct.”

Male worshipers were required to make donations of cash or services to the church to participate in the rituals. The Tracys, who acted as their own attorneys, called the donations religious sacrifices. They said they received about $50,000 in donations in three years while operating the church in houses in West Los Angeles and Silver Lake.

The issue before the court, Byrne said, was not whether the religion exists. But he could rule, the judge said, on whether the Tracys exhibited a sincere belief in the doctrine they preached.

“I find that each of the plaintiffs does not have a sincere belief,” he said, calling the church “nothing but a shield” to protect the couple from prosecution.

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Byrne noted that Mary Ellen Tracy, 47, ran ads in sexually explicit newspapers saying, “I love sex,” and soliciting men for “hedonistic” rites. The couple said the ads merely expressed Mary Ellen Tracy’s open attitude toward sex.

“We find nothing wrong with sex,” Will Tracy said. “Sex is a gift from God.”

Byrne also said that even if the Tracys were sincere in their beliefs--and he conceded that was a possibility--there is a compelling public interest to control such activities, regardless of the religious intent.

He cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against two Indian drug counselors who were fired from their jobs after admitting they had taken peyote in what they said were ancient religious rituals. The court held that the Constitution does not permit people to break the law in the name of religious freedom.

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Outside the courtroom, Will Tracy said: “This means there is no religious defense in federal court.” He called the judge’s ruling “appalling” and promised to appeal.


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