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(RNS) Tennessee wildlife regulations allow zoos to keep venomous snakes, but there is no provision for churches to have them. The Rev. Andrew Hamblin, co-star of the National Geographic series "Snake Salvation," says that violates his congregation’s religious liberty.


  1. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As a Catholic I find snake handling normally foolish and a misunderstanding of the Bible–although there have been Catholic saints who have lived out the passages in question -some monks tried to poison Saint Benedict, but the poison had no affect on this holy man. Thus one can say these passages in the Bible point to a community presence activated and lived out by a few individuals on behalf of the community.
    The real danger in America today is NOT from snake-handlers, but from Leviathan government power. Whether it is gay “marriage” or use of health laws, or animal protection agencies–the First Amendment is under concerted assault–even though Freedom of Religion was just about the main concern of our Founding Fathers and the backbone of the First Amendment.
    The idea was that people are responsible for their own lives–and that means the government should stand back. For the distance between government as nanny and government as tyrannical is miniscule.

    • The Free Exercise Clause has never been an excuse to act in a way which is harmful to others or break laws which are rational and religiously neutral just because you claim God commands you to do it.

      Your right to free exercise ends where it harms others or the actions would be considered illegal as a general matter of law.

      The Supreme Court considered your argument a load of crap more than a century ago

      “This would be introducing a new element into criminal law. Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship, would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice? Or if a wife religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her dead husband, would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice?”
      -Reynolds v. US (1878)

  2. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As far as I can tell no one in these churches is forced to handle snakes. If someone wants to be a fool and fondle snakes, that is his business not the government’s. The question is–which is more ultimately and immediately dangerous to all of us–a bunch of snake-handlers up in the mountains –or a government that coerces millions of people people to act against their consciences–like being forced to pay for killing children through government mandated insurance policies– and later to be accomplices in euthanasia.

  3. As long as people like Andrew Hamblin are out there, Christianity will just be more and more embarrassed, and naturally, the media loves this. So many people are saying this is a religious rights issue. It isn’t. It’s an issue with the law. It’s been illegal since 1947 and these snakes are class I creatures that require special care and licensing to live.

    I wrote about this whole situation on my own blog.

    If only Christians would start fighting battles worth fighting instead of letting those who are hindering the gospel before the world be their champions.

  4. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think Christianity in its proper forms can withstand media scrutiny. Most people realize the media loves the bizarre.
    But 20th Century history proves that government power can be far more dangerous than any poisonous snake. And it is the cases like this that can grease the skids for the ceding of ever more coercive powers to the state in our culture and American society. People risk their lives in all sorts of pursuits other people think are frequently as dangerous as snake handling—like high tightrope walking on live TV, car racing, boxing, or even football with the damage concussions cause (probably more often than snake handlers get bit.)

  5. Martin Luther King Jr. believed he was doing God’s work and was willing to disobey laws and go to jail in order to fulfill God’s plan. The Tennessee pastor who handles snakes is also willing to disobey laws and go to jail in order to fulfill God’s plan. The pastor’s actions are directly supported by Mark chapter 16, verse 18. I am an atheist but I admire this pastor for his courage. Not many people are willing to go to jail because of their sincere religious beliefs and actions.