Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. Following its law suit to strike down state banning of religious gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Justice Department has taken an additional step in defense of religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause. Today, it ruled that handling of rattlesnakes by religious-oriented congregations was a protected right under the religion clause in that amendment.
Attorney General William Barr, in a printed statement to the press, announced: "This Administration will not stand idly by while state legislatures defile the Constitution by banning snake handling at religious gatherings.
"If, as we contend, the state cannot ban public attendance at religious services because of the virus, then the state has no right to tell congregants that they can't handle rattlesnakes at a church-oriented gathering. Those practicing snake handling do so with the belief that their faith will protect them, and the successful snake handling is a sign that they are God's chosen people. The state has no moral or legal right to infringe on their belief.
"We find it inconceivable that any state would allow crowds to congregate in restaurants, malls, beaches and elsewhere during a pandemic but would ban an innocent and deeply religious event such as a church-run snake handling service."
The market for rattlesnakes, particularly those who have had their poison surgically removed, rose sharply on the New York Stock Exchange following Barr's announcement.