O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri-based TV pastor Jim Bakker is asking a judge to dismiss a state lawsuit accusing him of falsely claiming that a health supplement could cure the coronavirus, and the lawyer representing Bakker is former Gov. Jay Nixon.
Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued Bakker and Morningside Church Productions Inc. in early March. Schmitt sought an injunction ordering Bakker to stop selling Silver Solution as a treatment for the coronavirus on his streaming TV program, The Jim Bakker Show. The lawsuit said Bakker and a guest made the cure claim during a program on Feb. 12.
In a court filing on Monday, Nixon — a Democrat who served two terms as governor before leaving office in 2017, and two terms as attorney general before that — called the lawsuit an assault on Bakker’s religious freedom.
“Jim Bakker is being unfairly targeted by those who want to crush his ministry and force his Christian television program off the air,” Nixon said in a statement. “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.”
Schmitt wasn’t alone in going after Bakker. Also in March, U.S. regulators warned Bakker’s company and six others to stop selling items using what the government called false claims that they could treat the coronavirus or keep people from catching it. Letters sent jointly by the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission warned the companies that their products for treating COVID-19 were fraudulent, “pose significant risks to patient health and violate federal law.”
Nixon said Bakker immediately complied with orders to stop offering Silver Solution on his show and ministry website.
There are no approved treatments for the new virus. Potential treatments and vaccines now in testing won’t be ready for many months or even years.
Nixon said Schmitt’s lawsuit violated Bakker’s constitutional right to free speech, as well as the Missouri Constitution and the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He said silver products are commonly sold at stores and online.
“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.
Schmitt’s spokesman, Chris Nuelle, declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation, “except to say we stand by our lawsuit.”
The hour-long Jim Bakker Show is filmed in southwestern Missouri.
Nixon is now a partner in the St. Louis law firm Dowd Bennett, which along with the Kansas City-based firm Spencer Fane is representing Bakker in the case.