LAFOLLETTE (WATE) – Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers seized 50 venomous snakes from a Campbell County preacher and reality TV personality on Thursday.
Officers say they went to the home of Andrew Hamblin, minister at Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette andstar of “Snake Salvation” on the National Geographic Channel, around 10 a.m.
They asked him if he was in possession of venomous snakes. He said ‘yes’ and took the officers to his church where officers found 50 venomous reptiles, both native and non-native species. Some are exotic species.
The snakes were collected, documented and transported to the Knoxville Zoo.
Hamblin has been at the center of an effort to repeal Tennessee’s ban on snake handling, saying he knew he was breaking the law and wanted everyone to know it.
He told 6 News he knew this day might come, but says it was a risk he and his congregation take to practice their faith. He says the law is trampling on his religious freedom.
“To me, telling someone what they can or cannot have in a worship service is no different than telling someone they cant have a Bible,” said Hamblin.
He says he’s always been careful to ensure the safety of his congregation, keeping the snakes locked up.
“I’m the only one with a key,” he said.
TWRA says the snakes were in poor condition.
Hamblin says the seizure won’t stop his church from practicing.
“One way or another, they might not be kept here like they were, they might not be kept by anybody but one way or another, there will still be serpents to be took up at this church,” he said.
Hamblin was cited for possession of Class 1 Wildlife, which includes any that is a danger to humans. He is expected to appear in Campbell County Court November 15.