In March, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against Branson-based televangelist Jim Bakker. His office alleged that Bakker had touted a product called “Silver Solution” as a treatment for the coronavirus. Consumers, Schmitt suggested, could be victimized by the false information.
But a former Missouri attorney general says Bakker is the real victim.
Now a partner at the St. Louis law firm Dowd Bennett, Jay Nixon is the state’s former governor, as well as its attorney general from 1993 to 2009. He is now representing Bakker in the lawsuit.
On St. Louis on the Air Friday, Nixon explained that Bakker has a First Amendment right to urge viewers of “The Jim Bakker Show” to get their bodies ready for the end times, even if the methods of doing so might not hold up to secular scrutiny.
“Pastor Bakker was engaged in a religious practice and speech during this show, as he is in his daily shows out of Blue Eye, Missouri,” he said.
That means, Nixon said, the government has to tread carefully in curtailing his actions. In a motion to dismiss filed on Monday, he argues that the state’s request for an injunction violates Bakker’s right to practice his religion. If Bakker’s “sincerely held religious belief” holds that Silver Solution was “made available to this generation by God to prepare for ... end times,” Nixon writes, the government can’t seek to silence him.
That’s the case even if Silver Solution doesn’t work, Nixon alleges. And it’s the case even though Bakker profits from purchases of Silver Solution. Making money from the product’s sale, Nixon writes, is akin to accepting a tithe or offering.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office said it would have no comment, as the litigation is pending.
Nixon noted that the product promoted on “The Jim Bakker Show” is a silver supplement available at drug stores and Walmarts across the U.S. And, by the attorney general’s own filings, Bakker’s promotion of it was limited to having a guest on the show to tout it, and responding “yeah” after two of her claims.
“The underlying case here is also extremely thin, I think a significant reach,” Nixon explained.
Best known as the host of “The PTL Club” in the 1980s, Bakker was once one of the best known, and lavishly living, evangelists of that era. But after his payoff to a former church secretary became public, his empire crumbled. Bakker was charged with mail and wire fraud and conspiring to defraud the public, and beginning in 1989, served five years in federal prison.
After building his original empire in South Carolina, Bakker moved to Branson with his second wife, Lori. They founded Morningside Church and began broadcasting “The Jim Bakker Show” in 2003.
Nixon acknowledged that his client’s history has done him no favors in the court of public opinion.
“We all recognize that Jim Bakker has made some significant mistakes, and he’s paid for those mistakes,” he said. “But to me, I just believe that everyone, regardless of their background, deserves to be treated equally and fairly by the law.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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