Snake handling may not be a mainstream fixture of American Christianity, but it’s still being practiced in some churches, particularly in the deep south. Case in point: Fifty venomous snakes were seized this week from the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn.
The Associated Press reported that Pastor Andrew Hamblin, whose deadly serpent handling has been featured on television programs, was cited by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for possessing the venomous snakes.
The seizure took place when authorities went to Hamblin’s home on Thursday and asked if he had any of the deadly animals inside. While the pastor said no, he did admit to housing them at the church.
“I’m not going to lie. They asked if they were at my house, I said no, but when they asked if they were at the church, I said yes,” Hamblin told WBIR-TV.
So, the preacher took authorities to the Tabernacle Church of God where the 50 snakes were collected.
The wildlife authority was apparently tipped off by complaints from the public. Plus, Hamblin’s appearance on National Geographic’s “Snake Salvation” confirmed that the pastor was housing the deadly serpents.
After being seized, the reptiles were delivered to the Knoxville Zoo where they are being held as evidence.
Now, Hamblin is scheduled to make an appearance in Campbell County General Sessions Court on Nov. 15 as a result of the charge against him: Misdemeanor of possessing Class 1 wildlife — a penalty that involves the possession of wildlife that could be dangerous to humans.
Hamblin told WBIR that he’s not bothered that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency took the snakes because he “can always get more snakes.”
It seems the preacher isn’t deterred by the legal problems he’s encountered.
“There can always be more snakes that can be found,” Hamblin said. “What bothers me is that this is not a place of business. This is not a home. Had this been a home or a business, yes, raid it. But this is a church. This is a place of worship.”
The debate at hand here is one surrounding the balance between religious freedom and rights and public safety. While Hamblin maintains that he has the right to handle and house venomous snakes, Campbell County District Attorney Lori Phillips-Jones told WBIR that so many poisonous snakes pose a “significant public safety hazard.”
But Hamblin argues that snake handling is essential to the faith, saying, “The point of it being a venomous snake is to show a nonbeliever, not of snakes being right, but of God’s true power.”
Serpent handling has been banned in Tennessee since 1947.
TheBlaze has covered the issue of snake handling numerous times in the past. From pastors who have died from bites to exploring why people still do it, we’ve looked intensely at the issue. Considering the balance between individual liberty and public safety, it’s safe to say the debate is far from over.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Featured image credit: National Geographic