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Mecklenburg faces dispute over home’s 'Moorish Temple' tax-exempt claim

The house at 1201 Gifford Drive in Matthews is at the center of a property tax dispute between Mecklenburg County and a woman who claims she is a “Grand Sheik” with the Moorish Science Temple of America.
The house at 1201 Gifford Drive in Matthews is at the center of a property tax dispute between Mecklenburg County and a woman who claims she is a “Grand Sheik” with the Moorish Science Temple of America. jmcfadden@charlotteobserver.com

In 2011, Mecklenburg County said a brick home in a Matthews subdivision was a church that didn’t have to pay property taxes. Today, county officials say that may have been a mistake.

The $245,900 home in Matthews Plantation is embroiled in a dispute between the county tax assessor’s office and a woman who says she’s a grand sheik with the Moorish Science Temple of America.

In a property tax appeal, Dianne Carter El-Bey says the Gifford Drive home is tax-exempt because it’s “private religious property” used for Friday night holy services, Sunday school and Wednesday Bible study. The home, she said, is also temporary housing for parents and children who otherwise would be homeless. She deeded the property to the Moorish temple in 2010.

But the county says the property should be taxed because it does not meet the criteria of a state law that gives exemptions to properties used “wholly and exclusively … for religious purposes,” Mecklenburg County Tax Assessor Ken Joyner said. Offering the exemption the first time might have been an error that officials are trying to fix, he said.

That possible error has raised concerns from Commissioner Bill James. He worries about homes improperly receiving tax-exempt status.

“I think (the county) very well made a mistake with the Matthews house,” he said. “I think they need to explain that – what rationale they had” for giving the exemption.

The land belongs to God, not the State.

Dianne Carter, in her appeal to Mecklenburg County

The county took away the exemption in 2013. That year and the next, Carter, who said she’s an ordained minister and lives in the home, paid about $3,000 in taxes “under threat, duress and coercion,” she said in an interview with the Observer.

She did not appeal then because “I had too much stuff to do to fight them at that time,” she said.

But Tuesday, she’ll have a chance to explain to the county’s board of equalization and review why the house should go tax-free. Her appeal states her position clearly: “There is no law requiring taxation of this Church and we do not consent to taxation.”

She adds: “The land belongs to God, not the State. A property tax is the State declaring that it owns the land, and is attempting to usurp God’s authority – and that is against the law.”

Recently, the Moorish nationalist movement has drawn ire from Mecklenburg County public officials because some of its adherents have challenged the authority of police and the courts.

Police have arrested Ninti el Bey, a woman they accuse of squatting in a Piper Glen home, three times. In October, a murder defendant claimed a Superior Court judge had no authority to preside over his case.

Carter said her appeal takes aim at officials she feels have “violated their oath of office.”

“They don’t have a valid argument,” she said. “How can they say they want to tax God’s property?”

Joyner, who became the county tax assessor in 2013, said the actual use of the Matthews property is what’s at issue.

If a minister lives in a house owned by a church, “they typically would apply and be granted the exemption,” he said.

Officials in 2011 likely found evidence showing the Matthews home was used for religious purposes. But after their most recent review, officials said it appears that someone was just living in the house and the home was no longer “truly affiliated with an organization that met the statutes,” Joyner said.

Carter rebuts those claims.

The home, she said, is a safe house where congregants gather each week. Because Moors are nomadic, she opens the temple to any who need a rest, she said.

She said she is unfamiliar with a man who recently filed a tax appeal on a Plaza Midwood home that’s listed as belonging to the Moorish Science Temple of America. Dori Me’ira El-Bey, Carter’s “Moorish name,” appears on the deed.

“There are people in jail from all walks of life who have done things they should not have done. This is not the case here,” Carter said of her tax appeal. “We have a corporate entity that’s trying to usurp God’s authority. That’s what this is.”

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov

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