Free Jim Bakker

August 26, 1991

Jim Bakker, the dapper little evangelist who hornswoggled thousands of television viewers into giving money to his dubious religious causes, managed to get his 45-year prison sentence reduced to 18.

That's good news, because the trial judge who initially sentenced Bakker clearly demonstrated a personal prejudice against the TV preacher. But the 18-year sentence, which will make Bakker eligible for parole in 1995, is still wholly out of line with the offense Bakker committed.

What makes Bakker's case for release compelling is the considerably shorter sentences given to the perpetrators of the Wall Street financial scandals of the 1980s. Even Ivan Boesky, who garnered three times as much money as Bakker did, got only three years, and was out in no time. Michael Milken, who gave America junk bonds, also got less than Bakker.

The U.S. government argued that Bakker's offense was more reprehensible than Boesky's because Bakker preyed upon naive people. That's a debatable premise, and very patronizing to people who find solace in Bakker's particular brand of religion. Fraud is fraud, without regard to the victim.

The two years Bakker has already served should be ample to put the fear of the courts, if not the fear of God, into any future TV evangelist out to make a fast buck with fraudulent religious appeals. Bakker should be set free.

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