A snake-handling pastor from Campbell County pleaded not guilty Friday to possessing more than 50 venomous snakes, reports the News Sentinel.
Andrew Hamblin, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, entered the plea during an arraignment in Campbell County General Sessions Court, which was packed.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Dec. 17.
Hamblin, 22, who appears on the National Geographic reality television show “Snake Salvation,” is charged with possession of Class 1 wildlife, a species inherently dangerous to humans, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 11 months, 29 days in jail and a $2,500 fine per count.
Hamblin could face up to 50 counts, according to Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Matthew Cameron. The snakes were removed from his church earlier this month.
He also could face additional charges for illegal importation of snakes because he had some exotic species.
“This ain’t no longer a fight for snake handling,” Hamblin told reporters and dozens of onlookers before the hearing.
“They came to our church house and that just ain’t right. This is a fight for freedom of religion.
“And the Lord said they shall take up serpents and that is our God-given right in the United States.”