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Snakes seized, pastor cited

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TWRA seizes 50 reptiles from LaFollette church

By Brent Schanding

UPDATE

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7:30 p.m. Friday—Just more than 24 hours after agents from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency raided Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette and confiscated 50 venemous snakes, the congregation has convened for a worship ceremony that included at least three venemous snakes. Pastor Andrew Hamblin preached from the pulpit to a packed church. Hamblin acknowledged the citation he received for possessing dangerous snakes, but said he was not afraid of lawmakers and would challenge any ruling that could ulitmately infringe on his religious beliefs of serpent handling. 

SEE MORE UPDATES IN THE NEXT EDITION OF THE LAFOLLETTE PRESS. 

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1:30 p.m. Thursday—All the snakes have been removed from the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, and church members say services will still continue tomorrow despite the lack of serpents. 

"I guarantee you tomorrow night there'll still be church at the Tabernacle Church of God," Hamblin told his church members, many of whom gathered there in support, as Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency agents raided the building to remove numerous venmous snakes.

Officers with TWRA removed five tanks and one box containing dozens of cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes. Snakes in one of the tanks were audibly rattling as agents placed it into the back of a white minivan.

Hamblin and approximately 15 church members gathered inside the church to pray after the TWRA officers left.

Friday night's church service will begin at 7:30 p.m., and Hamblin encouraged everyone to attend.

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LaFOLLETTE—Agents with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are now raiding the Tabernacle Church of God, in LaFollette, where they have seized nearly 50 venomous snakes. The church's Pentecostal pastor, Andrew Hamblin, was issued a citation for possessing Class-1 wildlife — a designation that means he allegedly housed snakes that are dangerous to humans, according to Matt Cameron, TWRA spokesperson for Region 4.

Hamblin has not been arrested, Cameron said, but a Nov. 15 court date has been set in Cambell County for Hamblin to answer to the charge. Cameron said three TWRA agents appeared at Hamblin's Campbell County home earlier this morning.

"They asked him if they had venomous snakes," Cameron said. "He said 'yes.'"

Cameron said the agents then escorted Hamblin to his LaFollette church, where they discovered and seized dozens of venomous snakes — serveral of which were not native to this area. The snakes will be contained and taken to the Knoxville Zoo for evidence, Cameron said. About 11 a.m. this morning, Hamblin issued a statement on Facebook. The post said: "Anyone and everyone that will please begin to pray now. 4 game wardens have me at my church now. I don't know what the out come will be but Liz will keep everyone posted. Mark 16:18 is still real. [sic]." Hamblin is one of the subjects of a recently aired National Geographic series, "Snake Salvation."  The show centered around Hamblin's Pentecostal faith and the beliefs of his serpent-handling congregation, among other things.  His congregation believes biblical scripture directs them to handle snakes as a means of worship, despite state laws which govern the handling and transporting of some snakes.  This story will be updated as the LaFollette Press learns more.  Reporter Beth Braden contributed to this report.