Jim Bakker has lawyered up — with former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon as his attorney, among others.
Late Monday, attorneys for the Branson-area televangelist said they filed paperwork challenging the lawsuit that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office brought against Bakker on March 10 over a "silver sol" product promoted on Bakker's show.
Bakker's attorneys wrote that the suit infringes on Bakker's First Amendment rights to religious freedom and freedom of speech, along with his Fifth Amendment right to due process.
"This is a very, very lean case as far as evidence," Nixon told the News-Leader Monday.
He added, "The bottom line is that I don’t want what were some problems in (Bakker's) life a few decades ago to have him be treated differently now under Missouri consumer protection laws."
Nixon said the televangelist — who made headlines in the 1980s over felony charges, conviction and imprisonment tied to accounting fraud at Bakker's Heritage USA development — did not make a claim on video that "silver sol" can cure COVID-19.
“Jim Bakker is being unfairly targeted by those who want to crush his ministry and force his Christian television program off the air,” said Nixon, a Democrat who also served as Missouri attorney general, in a prepared statement sent late Monday.
Nixon added, “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.”
Like similar actions taken by the Trump administration and the attorney general of New York state, the Missouri suit against Bakker stemmed from a February show segment in which Bakker and a show guest promoted a colloidal silver solution as "effective" against COVID-19.
"This influenza that is now circling the globe, you're saying that silver solution would be effective," Bakker said in a Feb. 12 broadcast, speaking with Sherrill Sellman, whom the show referred to as a "naturopathic doctor" and "natural health expert."
Sellman replied, "Well, let's say it hasn't been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it has been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours."
"Yeah," Bakker replied.
"Totally eliminate it, kills it," Sellman said. "Deactivates it."
"Yeah," Bakker said.
"And then it boosts your immune system," Sellman continued, "so then you can support the recovery, cause when you kill the virus then the immune system comes into action to clear it out, so you want a vibrant immune system as well as an ability to deactivate these viruses."
Nixon told the News-Leader Monday, "Again, my point is I believe if you look at the show, Bakker said 'Yeah, yeah.'"
Nixon also underlined that Sellman said on air no testing had been done on "silver sol" specifically with regard to COVID-19.
First, Fifth Amendment claims
Nixon, along with Springfield-based lead attorney Derek Ankrom, filed a motion to dismiss the attorney general's suit in Stone County Circuit Court on Monday.
They say the Missouri attorney general's suit, by seeking a restraining order, permanent injunction and other penalties against Bakker, violates the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, along with the Missouri Constitution and the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The attorney general's action comes "in such a manner as to prohibit and penalize the biblical practice and expression of Christianity and the religious solicitation of funds by a pastor to support a church's ministry," Ankrom, Nixon and other attorneys on Bakker's team wrote in court documents filed Monday.
In the Monday afternoon news release, former Gov. Nixon described the complaint against Bakker and his ministry as “unprecedented."
Nixon noted that similar products are on sale from Walmart, Amazon, CVS and GNC.
“Targeting a Christian pastor, who has been using and offering the product for the past 10 years, is not supported by the facts or the law," Nixon said.
Bakker's attorneys said following the February episode, Bakker "immediately complied" with legal orders to stop offering colloidal silver on TV and on his website.
In April, AT&T wrote a letter to several TV channels distributed over its DirecTV platform asking them to "carefully review" whether they should continue carrying Bakker's show.
A liberal Christian group, Faithful America, has been trying to get TV networks and streaming platforms to discontinue airing the Jim Bakker Show."
Bakker decries 'attack from the left'
In mid-April, Bakker said on air that credit-card companies were refusing to work with his show, so he asked viewers interested in "silver sol" to pay by check.
“Some of the biggest companies have come against us,” Bakker said Tuesday. “Right now, you cannot use a credit card ... You can give by check. That’s the only way you can give right now.”
Over two episodes, Bakker also spoke out on his show to outline what he called an "attack from the left."
“We supported the president, and so they want to destroy me,” Bakker said on one broadcast. “God spoke to me a year ago or more that the next thing that’s going to happen is that people are going to kill preachers who believe in the Bible, that believe the whole Bible is the truth.”
Bakker also said that those preaching against abortion rights or marriage equality are "going to be eliminated."
On another broadcast, Bakker said, “The next attack from the left is going to be to right leaders — some of them I can tell you their names, they’re famous, you know them — they are going to do everything to get them off the air, but there is going to be assassinations of preachers who dare to preach the gospel."