LAFOLLETTE — The church and snake-handling pastor who were among the subjects of National Geographic's recent miniseries, "Snake Salvation," were raided by state authorities Thursday morning.
According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Region IV office in Morristown, wildlife officers seized 53 venomous snakes from Tabernacle Church of God Thursday and cited its pastor, Andrew Hamblin, with possession of Class I wildlife. Class I wildlife is defined by the state as being wildlife that is dangerous to people.
TWRA did not specify the species of the snakes, except to say that they included native and non-native species. Venomous snakes native to the region include timber rattlesnakes and copperheads.
According to the agency, two wildlife officers visited Hamblin's home this morning to inquire about the venomous snakes, after which he led them to the church.
"Possession of a large number of venomous snakes is a significant public safety hazard," said District Attorney General Lori Phillips-Jones. "I truly appreciate TWRA’s efforts to keep all our citizens safe."
The snakes were transported to the Knoxville Zoo, where they will be kept as evidence. A Nov. 15 court date has been set for Hamblin, who was not arrested.
Following the raid, TWRA's Region IV office posted on its Facebook page, "PSA for the day: Please leave venomous snakes alone!"
Hamblin was also active on Facebook Thursday, posting, "Matthew 16:18 is still real."
The raid generated plenty of comments, some supportive of the church and some supportive of TWRA.
"You can take all the snakes you want and take all the snake handling preachers to court you want but you won't stop the way we worship," one poster said on the TWRA's page.
"If you do illegal thing(s) and then televise them, expect to get caught," another posted.