After months of criticism, including a de-platforming campaign initiated by other Christians, controversial Branson-area televangelist Jim Bakker and his team of attorneys are going on the offensive as they contend with blowback stemming from a February segment on the Jim Bakker Show.
In the segment, Bakker and a show guest promoted a colloidal silver product that, the show guest claimed, can "eliminate" coronaviruses from the human body "within 12 hours." But medical authorities thus far have primarily endorsed the antiviral drug remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19, while scientists race to develop a vaccine.
Bakker's legal team, which includes former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, filed a federal suit Friday. Their targets include Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and district attorneys with two California counties.
The legal beef?
Records. Arkansas and the three California jurisdictions have issued demands that Bakker's Morningside outfit near Branson — which Bakker's camp views as a church entitled to the full religious freedom protections assigned by the First Amendment — hand over records including supporters' names, addresses and financial contributions, according to a news release issued early Monday.
Bakker's legal action "presents the question of whether a governmental agency may, in the name of 'consumer protection,' intrusively supervise, inquire into, censor or punish religiously-motivated speech of a pastor to his congregation," according to court documents filed Friday.
The News-Leader reached out to Rutledge and Feuer's offices for comment and did not hear back by deadline.
But in their court filing, the Bakker legal team quoted from a March 11 letter from Feuer to the Bakker operation. The Los Angeles city attorney asserted that under California law he has authority to require anyone selling products to California residents to substantiate any advertising claim, such as the notion that colloidal silver can "eliminate" coronaviruses from human bodies.
Feuer was also quoted as criticizing Bakker's show for referring to Los Angeles as a "cesspool of disease" during the broadcast, "while making alarmist statements about COVID-19 and hawking Silver Solution and other products you make available."
The legal complaint also referenced a March 24 civil investigative demand sent by Arkansas Attorney General Rutledge, in which she said Arkansas was looking into whether Bakker and his show had engaged in deceptive trade practices. If Bakker didn't turn over the records demanded, according to the complaint, his "business activities in the state of Arkansas" could be suspended.
“It’s extremely disturbing that this is happening in America,” said Bakker’s best-known attorney on the case, former Missouri Gov. Nixon, according to the news release. “It’s a very dangerous and sinister overstep when the government demands the names, addresses and personal financial information of church members."
Nixon also said ministry donations are a matter of a person's private business, "not the government's."
The 80-year-old Bakker recently experienced a stroke, the Jim Bakker Show said a month ago. On the June 2 broadcast, Bakker's wife, Lori Bakker, said "He is recuperating."
"It's going to be a while," Lori Bakker said. "It's going to take a little time, and that's okay."
Bakker said she and her husband are "constantly" in conversation. "He talks to me about all kinds of things," she said on the show.
In March, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued Bakker in Stone County court, in an effort to stop Bakker from selling the colloidal silver product. Schmitt's office called it a "fake."
Earlier this year, Bakker was also rebuked by two agencies within the Trump administration and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James over the colloidal silver sales.