June 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Televangelist Jim Bakker is asserting in court that religious freedom protects his right to sell a product government officials say is a fake “cure” for coronavirus.

Bakker ran into trouble in April when he hosted a woman named Sherrill Sellman on his television program. Sellman promoted a product called “Silver Solution” she claimed could cure coronavirus in a matter of hours. At the time, Bakker was selling the product through his ministry’s website.

There is currently no cure for coronavirus, and officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Bakker to stop marketing the product as a cure for the virus. Officials in New York state sent a similar cease-and-desist order to Bakker; and in Missouri, where Bakker’s ministry is headquartered, officials sued him in state court over the matter.

Bakker hired Jay Nixon, former attorney general and governor of Missouri, to defend him in court. Last month, Nixon’s law firm issued a press release quoting Nixon as saying, “Jim Bakker is being unfairly targeted by those who want to crush his ministry and force his Christian television program off the air. The video recording of The Jim Bakker Show clearly shows the allegations are false. Bakker did not claim or state that Silver Solution was a cure for COVID-19. This case is about religious freedom.”

In fact, during a February interview with Sellman, Bakker clearly implied that Silver Solution could be effective against the virus. He asked Sellman whether the product would stop the virus, to which Sellman replied, “Well, let’s just say it hasn’t been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it’s been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours – totally eliminates it, kills it, deactivates it, and then it boosts your immune system….”

Bakker did not push back against this claim. Instead, he gushed about Silver Solution, asserting that it could cure “all venereal diseases” as well as combat SARS and HIV. Bakker said the substance is “almost like a miracle,” and that “God created it in Heaven.”

In court, Bakker’s attorneys are attempting to have the case dismissed by arguing that Missouri officials have no right to compel Bakker to abide by the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act because doing so would violate his religious freedom and free speech rights.

Maricela Woodall, president of Morningside Church Productions, Bakker’s end-times ministry, asserted that selling products like Silver Solution is part of the ministry’s religious beliefs.

“Our sincerely-held religious beliefs require us to encourage our partners to prepare spiritually, mentally, and physically for the second-corning of Christ, and assist them in doing so by bringing experts to our broadcasts to teach how to accomplish this goal,” Woodall said in a court declaration. “An integral part of this expressive ministry and practice, as well as the doctrinal teachings of our religion, includes educating our partners concerning, and offer them, products, including Silver Solution, that we believe have been made available to this generation by God.” (Schmitt v. Jim Bakker & Morningside Church Productions)

In other news about the Religious Right and coronavirus:

• Even as the U.S. coronavirus death toll approached 70,000 last month, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and a prominent Christian nationalist, continued to ridicule efforts to contain it.

While appearing on a conservative radio show, Falwell asserted (without offering any proof) that the media is putting out inaccurate numbers about the death toll because “they’re counting everybody who died of old age and heart attacks and whatever.” He also ridi­culed the idea of people wearing masks in public places, even though that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is required in some parts of the country.

“You know I haven’t changed anything I do,” Falwell boasted. “You don’t see people wearing masks around Lynchburg, Virginia … except at the liberal grocery store … It’s like the liberals think they’re going to live forever. I don’t know, maybe they’re afraid of what’s going to happen to them when they die, I don’t know.”

A major uproar erupted when Falwell insisted on keeping Liberty University open and told students they were free to return to campus after spring break. Two staff members have since tested positive for coronavirus, and there have been reports of students being sick as well.