A spiritual center near Boone where patrons practice transcendental meditation is not exempt from taxes, despite claims that it’s an educational institution, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The decision reversed the Court of Appeals’ opinion and upholds a ruling by the N.C. Property Tax Commission that the Maharishi Spiritual Center of America is not an educational, scientific or charitable institution that qualifies for a tax exemption.
The center is part of the 7,000-acre Heavenly Mountain resort established by followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles’ guru and founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement.
The resort also includes the campus of Maharishi Spiritual University of America, which is accredited by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to issue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in Vedic science. The sciences are the study of consciousness and are based on classical Indian Vedic literature.
The Supreme Court, in an unsigned opinion, said it sided with a dissenting opinion by Court of Appeals Judge John Tyson in August.
The appellate court was supposed to review the process used by the tax commission, but otherwise respect its conclusion, Tyson said.
In addition, the judges failed to consider that “the granting of exemption from taxation to some necessarily increases the tax burden on others,” Tyson wrote.
In his own review, Tyson said he concluded that providing some short- and long-term meditation courses, as well as Vedic science and Sanskrit courses, did not qualify the spiritual center for tax exemption.
“Thus, while the spiritual center does offer some educational activity that is not its primary purpose. The record clearly establishes that the primary purpose of the spiritual center is the practice of meditation” by adherents who have been a part of their group for 20 years, Tyson wrote.
The Spiritual Center of America had pursued its county tax exemption since 1997 on property valued at about $6 million.
Watauga County collected about $468,000 in fire and property taxes for the 1999 and 2000 tax years from the spiritual center site.
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