Racial Equality

A Televangelist Learns That Religious Freedom Provides No Safe Harbor For His Scam

  Rob Boston

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, televangelist and longtime flim-flam artist Jim Bakker allowed a “naturopath” to appear on his ministry’s television program to hawk a fake “cure” for the virus.

Sherrill Sellman told Bakker that the product, “Silver Solution,” could cure coronavirus in 12 hours and that it was also effective against HIV, venereal diseases and SARS. Bakker offered the solution through his website for a “donation” – in other words, he was selling it.

There’s no known cure for coronavirus, and at the time, we didn’t have a vaccine. Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Bakker to stop marketing the stuff as a cure. Officials in Missouri, where Bakker’s ministry is located, took an additional step: They sued him on behalf of all the people who were duped into buying Silver Solution believing it would protect them from the pandemic.

In court, Bakker’s attorneys had the temerity to argue that Missouri officials were violating his religious freedom. Bakker hired Jay Nixon, the former governor of Missouri, to defend him. Nixon asserted that state officials wanted to “crush” Bakker’s ministry and “force his Christian television program off the air.”

No – they just wanted Bakker to stop engaging in false advertising and putting people’s lives in danger.

We’re pleased to report that Bakker’s bogus religious freedom defense has failed. Two days ago, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced that the state has obtained a consent judgment against Bakker. As part of the judgment, Bakker will pay $156,000 in restitution and stop marketing Silver Solution as a cure for coronavirus or any other illness. He also must return $90,000 to consumers who bought the worthless goop between Feb. 12, 2020, and March 10, 2020.

“My Office will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of Missouri consumers, and will not hesitate to take action when those consumers are being defrauded,” Schmitt said in a press statement.

If Bakker’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you remember him – and his flamboyant wife, Tammy Faye Bakker – from the financial scandal surrounding their PTL ministry in the late 1980s. Jim Bakker was found guilty of committing mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. He served five years in federal prison. (Their sordid saga is soon to be a feature film.)

Bakker emerged claiming to have been humbled by his time behind bars. But he was soon back to his old tricks again, and his current ministry, heavily focused on the end times, sells emergency food and survivalist supplies to viewers foolish enough to take him seriously. (Not surprisingly, Bakker is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and once asserted that you had to love Trump to prove you were saved.)

It’s impossible to determine what sort of con Bakker will cook up next, but it’s good to know that his latest one didn’t work, and that religious freedom provides no cover for plain-old fraud.

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