Andrew Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, handles a snake during church service on April 13, 2012. (Tennesseean photo/Shelley Mays)
An East Tennessee pastor who handles snakes as part of his faith was cited by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and his venomous snakes were confiscated.
According to the TWRA’s Matt Cameron, wildlife officers went to Andrew Hamblin’s home in LaFollette on Thursday morning and asked him if he had any venomous snakes. Hamblin said he did, and they were at an undisclosed location.
When the officers asked him if the snakes were at his church, the Tabernacle Church of God, he said yes. Hamblin took the officers to the church where they seized about 50 of the reptiles, including rattlesnakes and copperheads and some non-native species.
“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,” said Hamblin, who has been the pastor for nearly two years.
Hamblin was cited with possession of Class I wildlife (wildlife inherently dangerous to humans). He has a court date scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. in Campbell County. TWRA officials said he was cooperating with their investigation.
“It doesn’t bother me that they took the snakes because I can always get more snakes. There can always be more snakes that can be found. And that don’t deter me,” 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 snakes will be held at the Knoxville Zoo as evidence.
Hamblin said he understands people disagree with his religion, but said the law should not stop him or church members from practicing.
“People are going to live and believe the way they live and believe. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about their specific beliefs. And I don’t expect anyone to change mine,” he said. “The only thing I ask people is to say ‘Yes, he has a right to religious freedom.’”