This is an interesting case. Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof even came out to attend the trial last week —
Common Law AZ provides an excellent overview of the legal issues in this case:
A legal argument is brewing in Arizona state courts as to what constitutes a brothel because of the Phoenix Goddess Temple trial currently being argued.
Let me back up and give you the background. Back in 2011 police raided a building in midtown Phoenix, Arizona because it was a suspected brothel. A brothel is just another way of saying that it was a house of prostitution. Police said they found advertisements on the website Backpage.com offering sex in exchange for donations. Prosecutors say the Goddess Temple was a front for prostitution and masqueraded as a church. Basically, prosecutors say there is a litmus test for prostitution: if money was exchanged for sex.
The women who worked in the Goddess Temple claimed the entire organization, including the sex, was for religious purposes. “It was about women being the teachers, the leaders, the guides and men saying ‘I want to be with a woman who is in her power.’” Tracy Elise, Goddess Temple’s ‘Mystic Mother,’ said in an a videotaped interview with Channel 12 news, starting at 1:25 of the video.
Tracy Elise seems to be making two basic defenses: that donations are not a fee arrangement according to contractual law principles, and she has a First Amendment right to practice her religious how she sees fit.