Early on Thursday morning police in Germany raided two communities belonging to a Christian sect and took custody of 40 children. Officials claimed they had “evidence pointing to significant and ongoing child abuse by the members,” but didn’t offer details.
More than 100 police officers arrived in green and white vans to seize children at the two locations in the southwestern state of Bavaria, according to German media. They are temporarily placing the children with foster families.
According to a statement from the sect, known as The Twelve Tribes, the raid occurred while children and parents were still in bed, and the police provided “no direct evidence against any individual” to substantiate the abuse charge. “Where is the legal basis here?” the group asked. ”People cannot be found guilty based on their association with a religious faith.” It expects a court hearing on Sept. 11.
Spiegel Online said officials claimed they had received credible information that the “physical and emotional welfare of the children could be permanently compromised.”
The Twelve Tribes is a communal group that began in Tennessee in 1975 and has grown to 2,000-3,000 members worldwide, according to the group’s website. Members do not vote, take up arms, own TVs, or keep income or property to themselves. They teach Jesus Christ is the Messiah but say there are three possible eternal destinies.
A “frequently asked questions” page on the group’s website notes that members do not send children to public schools or college, and practice spanking on disobedient children “with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage. Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist.” It adds, “We love our children and consider them precious and wonderful.”
German authorities reportedly arrested some Twelve Tribes members in 2004 for refusing to enroll their children in state-approved schools. The community established its own school, but the license expired in July.
Last week police in Germany forcibly removed four children, ages 7 to 14, from a homeschooling family. Home education is illegal in the country.