Last November, state authorities raided Knoxville pastor Andrew Hamblin‘s Tabernacle Church of God and took into custody the dozens of venomous snakes he kept around for God-pleasing purposes.
The state has a law again possessing venomous snakes and Hamblin was violating it — not to mention exploiting it on the National Geographic Channel’s now-canceled show “Snake Salvation.”
But Hamblin just got a huge break:
After a hearing on Wednesday…, a grand jury decided not to indict the Rev. Andrew Hamblin on charges of violating a state ban on possessing venomous snakes.
Hamblin argued that the ban violates congregations’ religious liberty.
He was thrilled by the grand jury’s decision.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “All the headlines should read ‘Snake handlers have religious rights in Tennessee.’”
Hambin said he was allowed to address the grand jury for half an hour at the hearing. His defense was simple. The snakes weren’t his, he said. They belonged to the church, and Hamblin said the wildlife officials had no business raiding a church.
Jeremey Henegar, another church member, agrees.
“To me it violated my right as an American to have my freedom of religion. It shouldn’t matter to people if the Lord moves on me and I feel like I need to take up a six-foot rattlesnake. I should have that God-given right,” he said.
I swear I didn’t make up that last statement. That guy wants to fight for his right to die a preventable idiotic death and win a Darwin Award.
Hamblin won’t be getting his snakes back from the Knoxville Zoo — more than half of them died from anorexia caused by Hamblin’s inability to care for them — but I suspect he’ll just find a way to get some more.
I fear the members of that church may not learn their lesson until someone gets fatally bitten. I don’t wish that upon them, but right now, Jesus mixed with venom may be clouding their better judgment.