snake handlers

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snake handlers

A movement of loosely organised fundamentalist Pentecostal churches, ministers and itinerant preachers, who handle poisonous snakes as part of their weekly ritual and sermons. Snake handling is a ritual based on an interpretation of Mark 16:17-20 and Luke 10:19 in the Bible. George Went Hensley (born circa 1880) began the practice in 1908, and is commonly considered the "father of contemporary serpent handling"; he died in 1955 from a snake bite.

There are between 1000 and 2000 snake handler church members, including those who do not handle snakes. The practice is controversial in that it pits the US First Amendment freedoms of religious expression against the states’ interest in protecting the safety of snake handlers’ minor children and other non-participants, potentially triggering felony charges against participants.
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