Pastor Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., was exonerated by a grand jury Wednesday, clearing him of charges related to the possession of illegal deadly snakes deemed by authorities to be dangerous to the public.
Hamblin, 22, who has appeared on National Geographic’s “Snake Salvation,” a reality show about preachers who handle serpents, found himself in legal cross-hairs when the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency cited him in Nov. 2013 for possessing the venomous snakes.
The government stepped in to seize 53 snakes after authorities went to Hamblin’s home 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.
The preacher then took authorities to the Tabernacle Church of God where the snakes were collected.
Hamblin was subsequently charged with misdemeanor of possessing Class 1 wildlife — a penalty that involves the possession of wildlife that could be dangerous to humans; he pleaded not guilty.
While Hamblin and his followers have said that snake handling is part of their religious practice, Prosecutor Lori Phillips Jones joined authorities in arguing that the possession of deadly serpents is a public safety issue, reported The Associated Press.
After a judge last month heard arguments from both sides, the case was sent to the grand jury.
“It’s a major step,” Hamblin told Chattanooga Times Free Press after the case concluded. “Today was a major victory, not only for serpent-handling people, but for Christians everywhere.”
And on Thursday the church wrote two simple words on its Facebook page in reaction to the decision to exonerate Hamblin: “Great news!”
Matt Cameron, a spokesman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, told Religion News Service that the agency acted correctly in seizing the snakes and that they will not be returned to the church.
Serpent handling has been banned in Tennessee since 1947.
(H/T: Christian Post)
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