Now before I begin I want everybody to understand that I do applaud John Oliver for taking on the televangelists and pointing out that what they preach is nothing more than greed disguised as religion. I definitely think the above video is worth a watch even though it has some beeped out expletives because it shows the methodology of the charlatans and frauds that many television preachers are and they should be exposed. For that I thank John Oliver as a minster myself for pointing that out. The real problem now is that this is causing a backlash toward religion and churches in general that the IRS do more to police these televangelists and then of course people start talking about taxing churches.
Here is the real problem as this point. John Oliver has probably done more to combat this than the state will ever accomplish. Like it or not taxing churches is really a bad idea constitutionally. I have heard it said that religious people really choke on the first idea of the first amendment that congress cannot establish a religion, I often retorted that people of their persuasion choke in return on the fact that the first amendment also says that when it comes to religion the state should BUTT OUT.
Want more convincing? OK, let’s say churches were taxed. You need to understand that the televangelist and mega churches still only represent a small minority of believers and religious people. Most churches are small local bodies that struggle for existence and don’t defraud people that they say the other two above mentioned organizations do. The really smacks of punishment of all because of the misdeeds of the few. But more than that taxing of churches then becomes punishment not for the public good. Finally, there is the matter of “If you tax me what am I getting in return?”
This last issue is why the IRS and government has maintained a hands off talking about this issue and rightly so. If you tax a church then churches have the right to demand services from the state just like anybody else that is taxed. It means we should expect that moneys taken from the televangelists and mega churches should come back to the smaller churches in some way. More than that it also means you no longer can restrict by law that candidates cannot be endorsed from pulpits. If you are going to tax churches then those church leaders should have the right to advocate, like any other taxed entity or person, for the politicians they want to administrate that taxation. Sorry to not do so I just to steal from the churches without even a compensation.
The answer is not to tax churches but to simply investigate churches on the basis of misappropriation of funds. I am sure this is happening in televangelists, but this requires no new laws just an actual enforcing of the existing ones. It is not that churches don’t have checks and balances before the law already, it is just a question of guts by the IRS.
The separation of church and state only works when it is an iron clad wall not semi-permeable membrane where one side or the other can reach through and influence the other. It has to be a truly hands off on both sides toward the other. Does that have negative consequences? Certainly but the alternative is religious totalitarianism or state totalitarianism. The founders understood this far better than John Oliver and company.