I love John Oliver. And his recent segment on the tax status of churches was brilliant and funny. That said, it’s not a justification to change how we exempt churches from taxation.
Oliver’s segment show just how easy it is to start a church in America. As I tell students: if you want to start your own religion with yourself as prophet or divine being, then you can do it. No questions asked.
In the parlance of economics, the result is as close to a free, unregulated market as you’ll find anywhere. Government doesn’t regulate the industry. It doesn’t pick favorites by providing subsidies to one church but not another. No one is taxed. Startups require no government approval. No civil rights laws affect hiring or services.Government does not audit churches. It does not keep a register of religious groups. There is no “U.S. Department of Religion” that subsidizes or regulates religion. Churches do not even file the same paperwork (Form 990’s) that other types of nonprofits submit as a means to provide transparency to the public.