Leading Snake-Handling Minister Dies Of Snake Bite: Should Religious Snake Handling Be Prosecuted?

300px-SnakehandlingThe death of Pastor Jamie Coots, a third-generation snake handler and religious leader of the, w Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, Ky., has renewed concerns over the practice and the need to criminalize such conduct. However, criminalization triggers a serious question of free exercise so long as the animals are not being abused or children allowed to handle poisonous snakes.


220px-C_horridusCoots, 42, was featured on the new National Geographic reality show “Snake Salvation.” His church has had two fatal bites in the less than 10 years. Coots was bitten by a 4-foot timber rattlesnake (right) and later refused treatment. He died at his home.

We previously discussed Coots’ arrest a few year ago.

Notably, in 1942, the state criminalized the use of “any kind of reptile” during religious services. The last time that this law was raised was in 1995 when Melinda Brown, a 28-year-old mother of five, died at Coots’ home from a snake bite received in one of his religious services. The prosecutor moved to indict but a local judge refused to sign the criminal complaint.

The law creates a problematic conflict with free exercise, particularly if you only criminalize religious snake handling. It is possible to handle such snakes which is done not only by these extreme religious sects but also entertainment and educational experts. It would seem that there are a series of steps that can be taken without much controversy. For example, a state could require certification, permits, insurance obligations (which may be hard to come by) or even the presence of an animal expert at public events to protect public safety. A head-on conflict over criminalization would still favor the state on public safety grounds but a sweeping prohibition would raise questions of whether the law is narrowly tailored in light of the bona fide religious belief. As many as 200-300 churches still engage in the practice and based on a passage in the Gospel of Mark. Mark 16:17-18 reads: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

There remains the high risk of liability, though assumption of the risk is obviously a looming defense as is comparative negligence or comparative fault.

I tend to favor allowing people to assume the risks of such actions, particularly when they are motivated by religion, so long as they do not harm the animals or endanger children. After all, this particular article of faith tends to be self-correcting in terms of practitioners left in the gene pool. We last discussed this practice when another minister died 29 years after his father, another minister, died from snake bites.

Source: Kansas City

42 thoughts on “Leading Snake-Handling Minister Dies Of Snake Bite: Should Religious Snake Handling Be Prosecuted?”

  1. nick spinelli

    Dredd, Great comment! I did a paper in college for a class on prisons in the US on phrenology, the ugly cousin of Eugenics.
    —————-
    Bron

    Dredd:

    “Eugenics is now known to be pseudo-science.”

    I am not sure how you can say that seeing as how 30 million plus humans have been aborted over the last 40 years. Most the poor and people of color.
    ==================
    Bron, you conflate personal choice with official-mob choice?

    Nick, is there a journal of phrenology?

    In my blog post there is a link to the journal The Eugenics Review (1909-1968).

    It chronicles a history of madness posing as science.

  2. When you play with fire you get burned or Stupid is as Stupid does are two responses that immediately came to mind when I read this article. The snake handlers should not be prosecuted.

  3. My understanding is that West Virginia is the only remaining state that permits snake handling in religious services. My view is that statutes outlawing the practice violate the Free Exercise clause.

  4. Should snake-handling be prosecuted? NO, theres that issue with the separation of church and state. I say if they want to handle deadly snakes, let them all die. Who cares?

  5. It’s a phallic symbol as the woman in the video seemed to indicate (unknowingly). Religion is all about male domination of women. It’s probably not much more dangerous than the gun arsenals so many simple-minded folks seem to enjoy.

  6. Poison snakes should be encouraged in all religious activities. Hail Mary, full of Grace. A little rattle gets their attention better.

  7. Dredd:

    “Eugenics is now known to be pseudo-science.”

    I am not sure how you can say that seeing as how 30 million plus humans have been aborted over the last 40 years. Most the poor and people of color.

  8. Dredd, Great comment! I did a paper in college for a class on prisons in the US on phrenology, the ugly cousin of Eugenics.

  9. I tend to favor allowing people to assume the risks of such actions, particularly when they are motivated by religion, so long as they do not harm the animals or endanger children. After all, this particular article of faith tends to be self-correcting in terms of practitioners left in the gene pool.” – JT

    Same here.

    Sometimes we forget that religionists have been more aware of the dangers of mobs of officials who are “exacting righteousness” on the public.

    The Catholic Church and some fundamentalist denominations were vocally opposed to castration of “the feeble minded” and morons based on the “science” of Eugenics of the day.

    Even though establishment scientists, scholars, politicians, and celebrities favored it.

    Eugenics is now known to be pseudo-science.

  10. I kind of agree with the Professor on this. That’s a lot to put on a snake. How would you like to be an unwilling participant stuck with that group with no hope of escape?

  11. If they can do the funky chicken sanataria in Carrollton….. Then the snake handlers should be able to play with dangers…. So long as the kids are not handlers…. What’s that old biblical myth with Moses and the snakes wrapping his staff…. It’s also the symbol of the AMA….. American Medical Association….

  12. I side with freedom and liberty on this one too. I don’t like the idea of too much regulation either. Forbidding children from participating is warranted, but not much beyond that.

  13. “I tend to favor allowing people to assume the risks of such actions, particularly when they are motivated by religion, so long as they do not harm the animals or endanger children.”–I agree with this.

    Reminds me of the ancient Marcionite Christian group that apparently did not favor marriage. They died out after a few generations.

    We give a wide berth on freedom of speech with extremes on the right and left like Westboro Baptist and flag burning we should do the same with freedom of religion.

  14. Prosecuting snake handlers would be abridging religious freedom. My personal thought would be this religious group acts as chlorine in the gene pool.

  15. Isaac, You’re absolutely correct, you need to kill all Republican pols running for President. Dem politicians are good, Republican are evil and need to die. Very healthy outlook.

  16. Now, if only these guys could get some more guys like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, and the list goes on, to join their church and play with the snakes, well we’d all be better off, with the ‘self correcting’ aspect of the religious extreme and all..

  17. No, I don’t think ‘snake handlers should be prosecuted….. We should all chip in to buy the fools a few more Snakes…..

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