TV preacher Jim Bakker has had a long, unfortunate, career. In the late 1980s, Bakker and his flamboyant wife Tammy Faye ran PTL (Praise The Lord), a television ministry that had a nationwide audience. It fell apart after Bakker was accused of financial misconduct and served five years in federal prison.
While Bakker for a time pretended that prison had humbled him, he soon returned to his old ways. He now runs a different ministry that focuses on “End Times” prophecies – the idea that the end of the world is nigh, and that it will be preceded by a period of societal breakdown and chaos. Bakker spends much of his time on the air frightening his followers with tales of looming anarchy and hawking buckets of freeze-dried food, water purifiers and other types of survivalist gear, which his ministry makes available for pre-set donations. (In other words, he’s selling the stuff.)
Like the snake-oil salesmen of old, Bakker also promotes a line of dubious medical products. When fears of the coronavirus began to grip the country, Bakker, aided and abetted by a “naturopath,” began pushing a silver compound he claimed could cure the virus.
There’s one problem: There’s no known cure for coronavirus. And the silver solution, actual doctors warn, can harm people. Bakker, it seems, is up to his old fraudulent tricks again.
Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the New York Attorney General’s Office and the state of Missouri aren’t letting him get away with it. Bakker has been warned to stop making false claims for the silver solution. So far, he has remained tight-lipped – although there was some evidence that he removed the products from his website last month.
Bakker 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 in a press statement, 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 said repeatedly that religious freedom does not give one person the right to cause harm to another or take away their rights. People like Bakker are not only working against the best interests of the country, they are exacerbating what has now become a pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. That’s not religious freedom – it’s merely being irresponsible. Government officials have a right to put a stop to it.