In Defense of Snake Handlers

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Before we get to the snakes, what do we mean by religious freedom? I think it means that individuals can practice, promote, and proselytize for their religion, but that government cannot favor one religion over another, or religion over non-religion. If government exempts an action from law because of a person's religious belief, I think that same exemption should apply to non-religious conscientious belief. Example? The Supreme Court ruling in favor of an atheist conscientious objector to war.

However, claims of religious belief or conscience cannot be used as a valid excuse to undermine society's promotion of the general welfare. For instance, we must pay taxes even for government expenses we morally oppose. For me that would include wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Drugs; for others it might include Obamacare. A pharmacist should be required to dispense prescriptions regardless of religious belief, just as a supermarket cashier is required to check out meat products regardless of vegan belief.

An unconscionable bill passed by the Arizona Legislature would allow widespread discrimination against the LGBT community in the name of religious liberty. If the governor signs it into law, business owners can refuse to serve gay customers by claiming that it would violate their religious principles. A similar measure was recently defeated in Kansas, but such bills are being considered in other states.

Obamacare, which requires employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, exempts some religious employers. Their employees could still get free access to contraception through a third-party insurance provider, but some employers still object because they simply don't want their workers to get contraceptives. Message to employers: Religious liberty gives you the right to argue against contraceptives, but not the right to take away the freedom of individuals to make their own health care decisions.

People are always free to pray the cancer or the burst appendix away. They can also use tarot cards, psychics, or exorcists. In fact, an easily affordable health care plan is offered in Mark 16:17-18: "These signs will follow believers: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." (A cautionary note: All potentially life-threatening freedoms apply to adults only, not to minors.)

In reality, snakes have been more effective in reducing over-population than in healing the sick. See Darwin Awards. Kentucky Pastor Jamie Coots, who was also a reality TV star on Snake Salvation, recently died after refusing treatment for a bite he received while handing snakes during a service. To paraphrase Matt 26:52: He who lives by the snake, dies by the snake.

Nonetheless, I side with the religious freedom of snake handlers who practice their religion without imposing it on those of us who live in the real world and decline to play with poisonous snakes.
 

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at huffingtonpost.com

32 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by NoneOfTheAbove:

      I think there are other dangerous and potentially deadly ways of probing one’s faith that do not entail keeping animals in captivity.

      Using a snake was for publicity and to boost ratings, pure and simple. A lethal mistake.
      Go for them, and let the snakes alone.

    • In reply to #1 by NoneOfTheAbove:

      I think there are other dangerous and potentially deadly ways of probing one’s faith that do not entail keeping animals in captivity.

      Go for them, and let the snakes alone.

      I am more concerned for the children, but yes the snakes don’t have a very good life either.

  1. I agree an ape has every right to practice snake handling but from what i’ve read there seems to be the issue of how so many got away without being bit for so long; the condition of their snakes. Animal wellfare should trump religious rights.

    it’s fine to keep snakes for sunday worship but they should be kept healthy, well fed, regularly taken to the vets (nothing in Mark about snake handlers snakes not getting sick) and not tormented.

    of course a true believer would do this anyway, they wouldn’t want anyone to accuse them of being alive purely because their snakes are too badly treated to manage a healthy strike when they’re in the mood

  2. “Live and let Live” is a fair statement of tolerance when dealing with an equal playing field…however I don’t think religion agrees on that statement…they want to live and not let live and then live on again after death……I don’t personally subscribe to Martyr’s of any kind especially religious ones and they certainly shouldn’t be glorified especially by atheists….Martyrdom gives religious fundamentalists the perfect excuse to take other people’s lives – human or animal – when they choose to die for their own cause…That’s just murder…snake handler or terrorist – if you are a person who is hell bent on suicide in such a attention seeking way and even risk harming or killing others…you should be isolated from innocent others….You have every right to be a loony but you cant endanger the general populace….
    Secular rights are the only true common ground among ‘all peoples’ the rest is personal preference and ignorance – we are not a very tolerant species even if there are laws against intolerance….

    • In reply to #9 by Light Wave:
      >
      Martyrdom gives religious fundamentalists the perfect excuse to take other people’s lives.

      Rather depends on which definition of Martyr one uses. Personally, in a religious context, the only meaning I accept is “dying, or enduring great suffering, at the hands of those who try to force the sufferer to renounce his (or her) beliefs. Being a passive victim is therefore a necessity of martyrdom in my eyes.

      Bombers and gunmen cannot be martyrs. Snake handlers cannot be martyrs. Refusing a blood transfusion because of one’s religion does not make a martyr (though if a parent refuses it for a dying child, that would in my eyes make the child a martyr, of the church rather than for the church.)

  3. Listen,

    All our freedoms granted by the US constitution are, in fact, restrictions. You do not have freedom of speech. You have restricted freedom of speech. You cannot say “fuck” on the radio and you cannot scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

    Even our gun rights are actually gun restrictions. You cannot own a fully automatic uzi. Nor can you purchase a flame thrower.

    You can vote, if you are of age and not a felon.

    And that brings us to this ridiculous idea of unlimited religious freedom. Your rights end where others begin. You have every right to have a Methodist church and exclude Jews, just like you can have a women only gym and exclude men…. (ooops ask Augusta golf course about trying to stay all men)….

    Anyway, the thing that CANNOT happen is the government establishing laws that establish a religious agenda. So, whine and cry all day about how your religious freedom is being eroded by those mean people who want everyone treated equally….

    Oh, wait, isn’t equality the hinge pin of the Declaration of Independence?

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

    How about the Virginia Declaration of Rights?

    “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which . . . they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

    The Massachusetts Constitution:

    All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

    This is the sentiment that ultimately defeated slavery and it will be the sentiment that drives bigoted assholes hiding behind religion down the same road as the Confederate States of America.

    Oh, wait, I remember only THEIR rights matter. Part of being empathetic is being smart. At least one politician in Arizona (the Governor) just displayed a bit of smart (to be fair it was lots of people; not many politicians but lots of people). Now to get the rest of them to smarten up……

    • Do not limit the audience to just gay folks, hell, I’D like to see it too!!!

      In reply to #13 by Bob Springsteen:

      I bet there are a number of gay people who would enjoy watching the unctuous Pat Robertson struggle with a venomous snake.

  4. “Nonetheless, I side with the religious freedom of snake handlers who practice their religion without imposing it on those of us who live in the real world and decline to play with poisonous snakes.”

    Hell, I agree! Snakes for all the Christians!

  5. Why can’t these religious nutters just drink battery acid, and leave the snakes to eat rats and rabbits?

    I mean, there it is in the good book, if your faith is strong enough, battery acid should be just dandy !

    I must admit to liking Herb’s sense of humour, – so atheistically Jewish !

    • In reply to #17 by Mr DArcy:

      Why can’t these religious nutters just drink battery acid, and leave the snakes to eat rats and rabbits?

      I mean, there it is in the good book, if your faith is strong enough, battery acid should be just dandy !

      I must admit to liking Herb’s sense of humour, – so atheistically Jewish !

      Battery acid is so noisy with the screaming and all. Snake bite is cheap, quiet and as long as the snake is cared for, I’m all for snakes for all the Christians!

  6. I completely agree with your concept of religion freedom at the beginning of the article, however Coots’ snake handling practice should deserve no respect. This is another case of favoring religion freedom over proper animal care, public safety, availability of emergency medical care, etc.

    • In reply to #18 by dsalles82:

      I completely agree with your concept of religion freedom at the beginning of the article, however Coots’ snake handling practice should deserve no respect. This is another case of favoring religion freedom over proper animal care, public safety, availability of emergency medical care, etc.

      Silverstein has no respect for the snake handlers. The article is a sly satire.

  7. What I want to know is should a young daughter of an atheist, who has not been raised to follow any religion, be allowed to carry a ceremonial dagger as Sikh boys are allowed, in Canada? Or are Sikh boys special? Because I follow only the Sikh tradition of carrying the knife, that’s the only part I believe and I believe girls should be allowed too. Is it the government’s responsibility to put conditions on what and how much of a religion we must adhere to, before we are considered part of that faith?

  8. Ah yes, the old “I have to carry a knife because my “god(s) tell me to”. Try that for anything other than religious or cultural reasons, and you’ll be arrested or at least viewed with concern and trepidation. A long time ago everyone carried knives and edged weapons for they are useful tools (they still are) but Western society has grown suspicious of anyone who does so. I know people who carry them now – no problem. Why do Sikhs and Scots in traditional dress get a free pass because of religion, culture or tradition while others do not? After all, a kirpan or sgian-dubh are at least as dangerous as other edged tools. Never made sense to me……

  9. @7 STC

    an ape has every right to practice snake handling

    In the u.s., it’s against the law to own exotic wild animals. Coots got busted last year for possession.

    animal welfare should trump religious rights

    Too right.


    Animal welfare should trump religious rights? What about the human children’s welfare?

    N/A in this particular article. Snakes vs snake handlers, vis á vis statement by STC.

    • @bluebird

      In the u.s., it’s against the law to own exotic wild animals. Coots got busted last year for possession.

      I’m not sure where you got that idea. Ownership of exotic animals is a state by state issue. Some states have licenses and registration processes for such things, but others do not. Some varieties of animals, like migratory birds have federal level restrictions – you can’t own a wild raven – for example, but there are no national laws that would prevent someone from owning a rattlesnake.
      Where Coots got in trouble was Kentucky, where snake handling is a misdemeanor. If he’d been just one state to the east, in WV, it would have been entirely legal, so long as he had a permit – presuming again that the snake was a native one to the state. If it was a non-native species there is no regulation. Kentucky has a grandfather policy on dangerous exotics, so if he owned the snakes prior to July 2005 he was also in the clear – entirely likely given the lifespan of a snake.

  10. Teaching children that mountain climbing is the most wonderful exhilarating pastime, though it is potentially very risky, is not a bad or immoral thing to do, so long as the need for proper training is drummed in at the same time. Building the skill, use of ropes and equipment, not climbing alone, researching the climb and the weather. Never feeling pressured etc.etc.

    Teaching children that snake handling is safe enough if your faith is secure is immoral in the extreme. Yet children are present at these services and told exactly why this is happening. They are kept away from the snakes when young, but as much to stop them riling the rattlers (which must make God particularly angry).

  11. Aargh. I don’t like, or agree with, this article at all.
    It’s one thing to criticize a religion, but another thing entirely to critique, or worse: apologize for, their rituals. We cannot be straying into their territory, purity of purpose and means matters! Maybe we don’t think about it enough, but there is a REASON to fight religion, and that is that religion is, in the aggregate, maladaptive for modern society, because it is certifiably crazy. The benefits stopped outweighing the problems long ago. Here we have Silverman dancing with the crazies. Sit own, Herb, you’re fraternizing with the enemy.

    He cites the idea that what a man does in private is private. Well, not if it kills him and deprives others of his company, income and security. This is not a new idea. We are all inter-connected, the idea that we have a “right” to remove ourselves from this mortal coil for no proper reason is stupid and downright cruel. It is part of the reason that “public safety” and similar notions are not just recent afterthoughts.

    How many people here would reply to a friend who has just stated his/her intention to kill him or herself with, “Yeah, sure, go for it. Bye.” That is what Silverman seems to find a reasonable response. He’s wrong about that. People have a greater intrinsic value than that, by necessity.

    • In reply to #27 by ElephantInTheRoom:

      He cites the idea that what a man does in private is private. Well, not if it kills him and deprives others of his company, income and security.

      I completely agree with this, where it applies, when he has dependent family and more importantly dependent children. They had no choice about their existence or their parents. He owes them big time.

      It is always a source of astonishment how deeply selfish the deeply religious are. Their own salvation is paramount so often, perhaps because of the instruction in Matthew and Luke to leave/shun your family, if they are to embark on that final committed journey to Christ.

      If he’s a loner, have at it. But leave the snakes alone.

      Whenever that troubled Catholic, Graham Green, felt in need of an emotional lift he would take his service revolver up to Hampstead Heath and play Russian Roulette. He got lucky each time. Though this still isn’t fair on others whose lives might be blighted by finding his body. Its still selfish.

  12. In reply to #29 by Kel_Rin:

    Thanks for the information.

    I was thinking of him poking around for rattlers in Texas. Looks at though he was also a snake collector in general, and Nat Geo filmed this for the show. Now it’s clear to me exactly how it is that Nat Geo was able to legally film the series in KY.

    Wonder if he ever partook of the annual rattle snake cull. Can’t remember what state(s) that takes place. A successful, albeit rather gruesome (my opinion) event.

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