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Sex Church Just a Cover for Brothel, Judge Rules : Rights: A couple filed a suit to prevent investigation and prosecution of their Church of the Most High Goddess.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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

U.S. District Court 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 the Constitution guaranteed that they could practice 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 once practiced in ancient Egypt. His wife testified that, according to the revelation, she 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 a ruling from the bench. “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 out of houses in West Los Angeles and Silver Lake.

The issue before the court, Byrne said, was not whether the religion did or did not exist. He could rule, he 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 law enforcement.

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Byrne noted that Mary Ellen Tracy, 47, ran ads in sexually explicit newspapers saying, “I love sex” which solicited men for “hedonistic” rites. During the trial, Byrne glanced at one of the ads and asked, “What was the purpose of this ad in furtherance of the religion?”

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 American Indian drug counselors who were fired from their jobs after admitting that they had taken peyote in what they said were ancient religious rituals.

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The court held that the Constitution does not permit people to break the law in the name of religious freedom.

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

“I’m totally devastated,” Mary Ellen Tracy said, saying she had worked hard to re-establish the religion.

The Tracys were convicted of running a house of ill fame, a misdemeanor, last September, and Mary Ellen Tracy was convicted on one count of prostitution. They are appealing their convictions in state court.

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