Pentecostal Snake HandlersADDPMP257
Snake handling, also called serpent handling, as a religious rite is observed in a small number of isolated churches, mostly in the United States, usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia and plays only a small part in the church service. Participants are Holiness, Pentecostals, Charismatics, or other evangelicals.
Most religious snake handlers are still found in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of the southeastern United States, especially in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and South Carolina. In 2001, about 40 small churches practiced snake handling, most of them considered to be Holiness, Pentecostals, or Charismatics. In 2004, there were four snake-handling congregations in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.
Ralph Hood, professor of social psychology and the psychology of religion at the University of Tennessee, who has studied the snake handling movement, indicated in 2003 that the practice is “currently at a fairly low ebb of popularity”. A 2013 article by National Public Radio gave a figure of “about 125” churches where snakes are handled, but also indicated that “snake handlers are notoriously private”.
All Appalachian states except West Virginia outlawed the snake-handling ritual when it first emerged. The states of Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee have passed laws against the use of venomous snakes and/or other reptiles that endangers the lives of others, or without a permit. The Kentucky law specifically mentions religious services; in Kentucky snake handling is a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 to $100 fine.