Here's the legal background of outlawing snake handling at church.
At first glance, prohibiting a person from practicing a religion would seem to violate the First Amendment. In several bizarre cases, the Supreme Court ruled that there are limits to our liberties when it comes to how we worship.
Before anybody gets worked up, consider the court's words in one such case: "
Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship, would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice?"If some lunatic decided that to appease his god, he needed to tear your beating heart out, should his First Amendment rights trump your Fourteenth Amendment rights? The court (and common sanity) say no.
The case I'm familiar with went to court because of a rivalry between a snake-handling church and a non-snake-handling church. The leader of the snake people (let's call him "Rev. Loony") invited the leader of the other church (let's call him "Rev. Sane") to observe his services. Trying to be tolerant and considerate, Rev. Sane and wife attended Rev. Loony's church the next Sunday. Despite Rev. Loony's earlier assurances that they wouldn't be pressed to hold a snake, a rattlesnake was shoved towards Mrs. Sane, strongly against her will. Rev. Sane brought the matter to the civil authorities, and despite Rev. Loony's protests, the Supreme Court ruled that banning dangerous snakes in religious ceremonies is indeed acceptable under the U.S. Constitution.
These decisions are still violently fought by the snake-handlers and, with the upcoming changes in the Supreme Court, they may finally get such laws ruled unconstitutional. Hurray! Cobras for everyone!
Thinking about becoming a snake-handler? Here's some info for you, nutjob!