A six month investigation resulted in the arrest of 20 women and men who worked there, police say. Is it a church, or a cathouse? Exactly how far should religious protections extend? These questions are being asked in the wake of the raid of the Phoenix Goddess Temple, which we reported on a few days ago. They tried to run the temple under guise of being a church, which makes this case especially unique.
Authorities are still searching for 17 more people — all of whom have been indicted — in connection with the prostitution enterprise, said Sgt. Steve Martos, a Phoenix police spokesman. The 20 people arrested so far have been charged with prostitution or other offenses, police said.
During a Wednesday search of the Phoenix temple and two church-related sites in nearby Sedona, police seized evidence showing that "male and female 'practitioners' working at the Temple were performing sexual acts in exchange for monetary 'donations,' all on the pretense of providing 'neo tantric' healing therapies," Phoenix police said.
The alleged brothel generated tens of thousands of dollars a month, Martos told CNN.
A history of neighbor complaints, a recent Phoenix newspaper article, and the temple's website were among the factors prompting authorities to conduct the undercover investigation, Martos said.
"What's unusual is that they were trying to hide behind religion or church, and under the guise of religious freedom, they were committing acts of prostitution," Martos said.
What makes this case so interesting is the great lengths these people went to in order to circumvent prostitution laws. People believe that the First Amendment is a blanket protection of religious groups, shielding them from the general laws of the state when conflicts occur. Sgt. Steve Martos replied in reponse on CNN: "We certainly respect First Amendment rights. However, religious freedom does not allow for criminal acts," Martos said. Regarding the Goddess Temple's website, he said: "What they would talk about would seem to be religion. At the same time, they were implying or intimating that they were giving sex therapy."
The temple also had a house and office in Sedona, as well as the main complex in downtown Phoenix. The Sedona house seemed to be used for rest and sleep, police said.