Coronavirus is spreading across the country, and government officials are working to educate Americans about the threat – and that includes cracking down on hucksters hawking dubious “cures.”
Among the most prominent of these snake-oil salesmen is Jim Bakker. You might remember Bakker, a protégé of televangelist Pat Robertson, from the late 1980s. He ran a ministry called PTL, which was involved in all sorts of financial shenanigans. Bakker was found guilty of committing mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. He served five years in federal prison.
Bakker emerged from prison and for a brief time claimed to have been humbled by his experience. But he was soon back to his old tricks. Bakker now runs an “End Times” ministry in Branson, Mo., that airs on satellite networks and online. He spends much of his time trying to convince people to buy emergency food supplies from him so they can ride out the Apocalypse.
Lately, Bakker has been pushing a substance called “Silver Solution” that he claims was created by God. In cahoots with a woman named Sherrill Sellman, Bakker has been telling his viewers that this goop can cure coronavirus in 12 hours. (He also says the solution can cure HIV, venereal diseases and SARS.) Bakker offers the solution for a “donation” – in other words, he’s selling it.
There’s one serious problem: There is no known cure for coronavirus (also known as covid-19).
Government officials have decided it’s time to crack down on Bakker’s lies. A few days ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told Bakker to stop marketing the silver product as a cure for coronavirus.
“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said in a public statement. “We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one.”
NBC News reported that FDA officials are concerned that the use of untested remedies may persuade people to delay or stop effective forms of treatment, “leading to serious and life-threatening harm.”
Days before that, officials with the New York State Office of the Attorney General ordered Bakker to cease claiming that Silver Solution can cure coronavirus.
In a March 3 letter to Bakker, Lisa Landau, chief of the Health Care Bureau of the New York Attorney General’s Office, pointed out that the World Health Organization “has noted that there is no specific medicine to prevent or treat this disease. Therefore, any representation on the Jim Bakker Show that its Silver Solution products are effective at combatting and/or treating the 2019 novel coronavirus violates New York law.”
Added Landau, “Your show is hereby advised to immediately cease and desist from making misleading claims regarding the Silver Solution’s effectiveness as they violate New York’s consumer protection statutes … which prohibit fraudulent and deceptive business practices and false advertising.”
Now comes word that officials in Missouri are suing Bakker over his claims.
Eric Schmitt, the state’s attorney general, issued a press release yesterday about the legal action.
The release reads in part, “Anyone who has bought ‘Silver Solution’ from the Jim Bakker Show should know that it cannot cure or treat coronavirus. The lawsuit filed this morning requests a restraining order and permanent injunction ordering Bakker to stop selling Silver Solution as a treatment for coronavirus.”
Bakker (who, by the way, is a proud member of President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, aka the League of Evangelical Lickspittles) may claim that what he’s doing is religious freedom, as opposed to mere hucksterism. But such claims should not protect him from being held responsible for his actions. As the FDA noted, when Americans are misled by people like Bakker, they may put their faith in false cures and delay treatment that might actually help them. In the face of a public health emergency, that’s unacceptable.
Americans United has explained repeatedly that religious freedom gives you the right to believe whatever you want about religion, but it does not give one person the right to cause harm to another or take away their rights. This situation is a perfect example of why we must not allow that. Bakker is working against the best interests of the country and exacerbating what could become a pandemic. Religious freedom provides no harbor for such irresponsible and dangerous actions. Government officials have a right, indeed a duty, to put a stop to Bakker.
P.S. For accurate information about coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website.