ST. LOUIS(RNS) On Sunday (Nov. 1), Missouri became the only state to enforce a sales tax on what many see as a spiritual pursuit – the practice of yoga.
The debate between Missouri’s yoga community and the state centers on whether yoga is a spiritual practice or just exercise. If it’s one, it’s constitutionally protected and can’t be taxed. If it’s the other, Missouri’s cash-strapped budget has a new source of revenue.
On Monday, yoga studio owners pledged to fight for their students and educate state legislators about yoga’s spiritual roots.
Last year, a similar First Amendment battle broke out in Washington when that state began including yoga studios in a group of recreational organizations that had to charge customers a sales tax. Yoga practitioners, teachers and studio owners in Seattle and around the state came together to show legislators and the Department of Revenue that yoga was different from other physical activities.
“They told us that yoga is more than just staying physically fit; it’s more of a spiritual and mental type of exercise,” said Mike Gowrylow of the Washington Department of Revenue. “After they educated us, we agreed they had a point.”
The state decided to leave yoga studios alone.
The Missouri yoga community and the state’s Department of Revenue are now at similar cross-purposes. Like many states, Missouri leaders are looking to alternative sources of revenue as budgets tighten. If the state prevails, it will be the only one in the country to levy sales taxes on the spiritual services provided by yoga studios.