SPRINGFIELD, Mo., June 8, 2020 /Christian Newswire/ — Attorneys for one of America’s best-known pastors moved Friday to block “disturbing” government efforts to force his church to hand over the personal details of his congregation — calling it “a very dangerous overstep.”
The “heavy-handed” demand by government officials could have broad and “sinister” repercussions for churches across America, warned Pastor Jim Bakker’s lawyers Friday, as they filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the move.
Bakker’s legal team is also concerned that government agencies seek to “test Pastor Bakker’s sermons for truth or falsity” — a potential religious freedom lightning rod.
Three California jurisdictions and the State of Arkansas have demanded Bakker’s Morningside Church hand over its records — including names and addresses of the congregation and details of their financial contributions.
‘Your Church Next’
“It’s extremely disturbing that this is happening in America,” said Bakker’s attorney Jay Nixon, former governor and attorney general of Missouri. “It’s a very dangerous and sinister overstep when the government demands the names, addresses and personal financial information of church members. It could be your church next.
“Which ministry you donate to and how much you put into a church offering plate is your business — not the government’s.”
A separate lawsuit filed in April in Missouri alleged Bakker and a guest made false claims on an episode of Morningside’s The Jim Bakker Show that a silver solution health supplement offered by the ministry could cure COVID-19. Bakker and Morningside strongly deny the allegations and have moved to have the lawsuit dismissed. Similar supplements are sold by Amazon, Walmart, GNC, CVS, and other national retailers.
In the latest development, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, the City of Los Angeles, and two California counties — Merced and San Joaquin — are seeking the names, addresses and financial records of Bakker’s congregation so they can probe deeper.
‘Attack’ on Religious Freedom
The latest move was a direct attack on Bakker’s First Amendment religious freedom rights, and the “right of any minister to talk freely to their congregation, without fear that the government will muscle in because they don’t like something the minister says,” said Nixon.
Bakker’s lead attorney Derek Ankrom, a partner in the Springfield, Missouri, office of the Spencer Fane law firm, called it “an affront to religious freedom and the right of church members to freely associate without fear of heavy-handed intrusion or harassment” by government officials.
“It’s appalling that government officials would attempt to violate a church’s constitutional rights, and the privacy rights of its congregation, in such a blatant manner,” Ankrom said.
Last month, Bakker’s wife and co-host Lori Bakker told viewers the 80-year-old pastor had suffered a stroke and would be taking a break from The Jim Bakker Show while he recovers.
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