By Marlow Stern
It was one of the better episodes of HBO’s Last Week Tonight in an already illustrious canon. During last week’s edition of the satirical series, host John Oliver targeted the fraternity of shady televangelists fleecing Americans for millions as part of “The Prosperity Gospel.” These hucksters demand “seed” money from their followers in exchange for the lord’s blessing and then use said seed money to treat themselves to lavish private jets, vacations, and luxurious “parsonages” in the form of mega-mansions. Oh, and to make matters worse, all of these donations and purchases are tax-free under the guise of religious exemptions.
After the episode aired, the IRS came under fire for conducting just three audits of churches total in 2013 and 2014, and zero between 2009 and 2013. Anything designated a “church,” including the Church of Scientology, is exempt from paying taxes by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which grants the free exercise of religion.
In order to prove how ridiculously easy it is to establish a tax-free “church” that pads its coffers with donations for “blessings,” Oliver established his own church—Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption—and asked his viewers to send cash donations to a P.O. Box that he’d then donate to charity.
“To be honest, slightly more of you responded than we were expecting,” Oliver said on Sunday night’s program.
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