|Robert Earl Burton leads a formal dinner inside The Fellowship of Friends Galleria. Source: Living Presence|
"We do what we can when we can and would wish to do more as we can. We ask nothing in return as this is what community supporters do." - Fellowship of Friends President, Greg Holman, May 27, 2014[ed. - see also: Group's tax refund shot down and Fellowship of Friends Request for Tax Refunds Based on Religious and Welfare Property Tax Exemptions]
From the Appeal-Democrat, September 25, 2014:
A Yuba County foothills organization is seeking a $600,000 property tax refund, claiming its worship center should not be taxed.Read more at Appeal-Democrat.com
The Fellowship of Friends filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the county, asking for the refund and a declaration the center be protected through religious exemptions from future taxation.
Yuba County spokesman Russ Brown said Wednesday he would not comment on pending litigation.
The complaint filed in Yuba County Superior Court says the Fellowship was erroneously and illegally taxed between 2009 and 2013 when the county assessor refused to recognize the Fellowship's right to religious and welfare exemptions.
The Fellowship, headquartered at 12607 Rices Crossing Road, Oregon House, describes itself as a nondenominational church with principles based on "universal religious teachings that transmit the art and science of recognizing and experiencing a Divine Presence."
There are 1,600 members of the church in more than 30 countries throughout the world, according to information included with the petition. The central focus of the suit is a multi-use 5,600-square-foot building referred to as the Galleria, described as housing books, antiques, sculptures, tapestries, instruments, and other arts considered by followers to be vehicles for transmitting the immortal state of Divine Presence.
"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 26, 2014:
From the Appeal-Democrat article Tim linked to above (referring to ‘The Academy’) [now, The Galleria]:
… The Fellowship closed the property to the pubic and it now “remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events.”Ha, ha, ha!
Of course, I have no idea what the layout is now, but for many years after ‘The Academy’ was built, the north wing was devoted solely to the use of Burton, including the ‘emergency escape tunnel’ leading from under the floor of his bedroom. IIRC [if I recall correctly], there was also a TV/entertainment room, and certainly lots of storage for clothes and shoes. There was the brick-lined cellar where wine was stored, with enough space for two bedrooms used by the ‘boys’ in favor at the time. The south wing contained a kitchen, ‘Wordsworth dining room’, a library, and a couple of rooms decorated with Egyptian furniture, mostly used for Burton and small FoF [Fellowship of Friends] business meetings, where he gave out the day’s orders.
The main central part consisted of an ornately decorated entrance foyer, and the large events room. On the west side, there were large doors leading to a covered semi-circular portico area, the roof supported with pillars. This was used for outdoors dining, and from there steps descended to the enclosed, rather formal, rose garden.
So, the north wing was devoted solely to Burton’s comforts, and was the scene of many of his ‘religious events’ of a sexual nature. The south wing was also devoted to Burton’s comforts, though followers were invited to share in the dining experience and fruits of the kitchen from time to time (but now also transformed into a lucrative fundraising gig). The cellar held his collection of expensive wines and housed his sexual playthings of the moment. And the main center room was used for concerts and other events, including ’symposiums’ and more prodigious fund-raising.
In reality, pretty much the entire building centered on Burton and the attempt to satisfy his insatiable desires and proclivity for dominance and control.
Admittedly, there were a lot of possessions there, paintings by third-tier artists, gaudy (but always expensive) trinkets that happened to catch Burton’s eye, plenty of ormolu. In various places on the GF [Greater Fellowship] site are some photo updates since that time, including one of a fresco on the ceiling celebrating the rampant erection of a particular (and easily recognizable) follower—perhaps caught in a religious sexual ceremony that was particularly memorable for Burton. And there is always the oil portrait of Burton-and-dog as a reminder of the ‘brightest light in 2,000 years if one tires of the rest.
Back to the article. I remember the furor over the Yuba county tax claims on real property—which included the contents—this is usual. Abraham Goldman came up with the scheme to make it into tax-exempt museum. That left a small problem: it was actually mainly the luxurious residence of Conscious Bob. So, Dr. Ethan H., offered his splendid, just completed, residence half a mile away, to Burton (I have no idea what the quid pro quo was). Burton accepted, and the circus had its base there for a number of years, and Ethan rented another house in the meantime.
So the FoF applied for a permit to make it into a museum, ostensibly ‘open to the public’, which AFAIK [as far as I know] was a requirement for tax-exempt status. That didn’t sit well (one of the ‘onerous conditions’, I suppose; another may have been a requirement to upgrade the access road to the museum to make it fit for the public to use, I don’t know). Long story short, it didn’t suit the FoF to meet the conditions. Later, Ethan got his house back, and Burton returned to the Academy.
So now the FoF is making what seems to me to be a rather weak claim for a tax refund. This is odd, since they requested the change to ‘museum’ status in the first place. They didn’t meet the terms, which means the county taxed them in the meantime at the usual rate for the value of the building and the contents. Now the FoF wants a post-dated religious exemption. But, if the county wishes to look more closely, they will discover the reality: this is just another facet of the ongoing and illegal inurement. That is, the building is mostly used, IMO, for the pleasure of Robert Burton, not for the benefit of the members of the church, and should not have tax exempt status. Moreover the private use value to Burton should be added to his personal income and taxed as such.
[ed. - The following is apparently a message to Fellowship members from Girard Haven, who for decades has been Robert Burton's surrogate.]
"J.D." wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 29, 2014:
Message from the Whitman Glen Office [the Fellowship's business office]:
“Galleria property tax exemption effort”
We would like all of you to be aware of a legal action the Fellowship initiated earlier this week. A suit was filed against Yuba County for the recognition of our Religious Property Tax Exemption for the Galleria. You may read about it in today’s Appeal Democrat front page top or online at the Appealdemocrat.com.
We have tried very hard to work with Yuba County to obtain the religious and welfare exemptions that we are due under the law, but we have been denied at every turn. We are now forced to sue the County, incurring additional legal expenses for both the Fellowship of Friends and the County’s other taxpayers, in order to receive the tax-exempt property status granted to dozens of other religious organizations in Yuba County.
As part of our court filing, the Fellowship is seeking a refund of property taxes that have been erroneously and illegally collected by Yuba County over the last four years. Recently, there has been some misrepresentation by others about our intentions for this property, so we want to be clear: this property is used as our primary place of worship and other ceremonial religious events. Our intention is that this property remains exclusively a place of religious worship and ceremonial religious events. The County should live up to its obligation to provide the Fellowship of Friends with the same property tax exemptions afforded to other places of worship in Yuba County.
Please be advised that now that this is an open case in the courts that we will not be talking about it any further. You may refer any inquires to me at 530-692-[xxxx] ext. 8217 or my cell phone 530-301-[xxxx].
G. H. [assumed to be Girard Haven]