The legal case against Andrew Hamblin, a serpent-handling pastor in LaFollette, Tenn., fell apart today.
A Campbell County grand jury declined to indict Hamblin on charges of illegal wildlife possession for having dozens of snakes in his church. The grand jury dismissed the charge today. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers raided Hamblin's church and confiscated 53 venomous snakes in November 2013.
Hamblin is the 22-year-old pastor at the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette. He starred in the 2013 National Geographic series "Snake Salvation" that highlighted Pentecostals in the Southeast who handle serpents as part of their worship services.
Tennessee law states that a person must obtain a permit to possess venomous snakes, but there's almost no chance of a private citizen being granted a permit from TWRA. They generally go to institutions like zoos and educational organizations.
Hamblin has embraced the publicity after the TV show and his arrest, allowing journalists into his services and rallying for religious freedom on the courthouse steps. He says that snake-handling - a practice based on Scripture in the 16th chapter of Mark - should be brought out of the shadows.
"It's a major step," Hamblin said. "Today was a major victory, not only for serpent-handling people, but for Christians everywhere."
For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.