Saturday, March 02, 2013

Constitutional Issue Avoided In Preacher's Guilty Plea For Possessing Poisonous Snakes

In a Tennessee trial court last Monday, James Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky, pleaded guilty to illegally possessing poisonous snakes. According to UPI, Coots, whose church engages in the practice of snake handling, legally acquired the snakes in Alabama and was driving through Tennessee taking the snakes to Kentucky where they are also legal to possess. Tennessee police discovered the snakes when they pulled Coots over for having too darkly tinted windows in his car.  Coots lawyer says he believes seizing the snakes was unconstitutional. However, apparently in a plea deal, Coots received only one-year probation in exchange for his guilty plea.


John (Ad Orientem) said...

This issue has been litigated on a number of occasions and the courts have consistently held that the public safety interest trumps the religious freedom issue. No one has a right to endanger the public in the name of religion. Snake handling is illegal in most states and is expressly permitted only in West Virginia. Lastly this is not Pastor Coots first brush with the law on this subject. He had over 70 venomous serpents confiscated in Kentucky a while back.

Snake handling is quite dangerous and people have died from bites.

Kyle Vanover said...

My understanding is that possessing poisonous snakes is illegal in not just Tennesee, but also in Alabama, and you have to have a special permit to have one in Kentucky. Whether Coots has a KY permit or not, I don't know. I did hear that a woman died about 20 years ago from a snake bite she received at the same church where he pastors, though.