Twelve Tribes - Germany

Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts - FOREF Report

On 23rd October 2014, during discussions at the latest Roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom Roundtable), amongst many other matters, we were informed by the representatives of „Twelve Tribes” of their difficult situation in Germany.

The IRF Roundtable is an informal group of individuals from non-governmental organisations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues on a non-attribution basis.  It is simply a safe space where participants gather, speak freely in sharing ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific IRF issues and problems.

 Not very late after this discussion, we received the report done by FOREF - Forum for Religious Freedom Europe regarding the “Twelve Tribes” case.

 Here is part of this report:

GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts - FOREF Reports Exclusively

FOREF (01.01.2015) - A good 20 years ago, a branch of the religious community "Twelve Tribes" was established in Germany. In August 2013, the community was prohibited from running a school of their own since they discipline their children corporally - although in a soft manner, as the community emphasizes.

One month after that, in a controversial large-scale operation the police went and got 41 children out of the communities in Nördlingen-Klosterzimmern and Wörnitz. At this point after more than a year, 20 children are still in the custody of the Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office).

Susan J. Palmer, sociologist of religion, points out that after the police raids in September 2013, the doctors did not find any evidence of abuse. She criticizes the blind trust the German authorities put in the self-proclaimed sect experts who are running a targeted disinformation and demagoguery campaign against the community.

Note in Advance: FOREF distances itself from the use of physical chastisement, even if moderate, and rejects the disproportionately harsh intervention of the authorities in this case as well, which have long term traumatizing consequences for the children. Cf. Art. 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect against the use of force, abuse, and neglect (see below).

In late October 2014, the District Court of Ansbach decided upon a petition of the Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office) to permanently withdraw custody from three sets of parents. The decisions are not final yet. The affected parents of six children aged 1-6 years have already filed complaints. Also at the District Court of Nördlingen, 12 more custody proceedings are currently pending, the court director Helmut Beyschlag told the news magazine Spiegel. There is no end in sight to the conflict between the German authorities and the Twelve Tribes.

As early as 1984 in the USA, the "Twelve Tribes" were accused of abusing their children whereupon 112 children were taken into state custody in a first police campaign. That same day Judge Frank Mahady strongly condemned this measure as grossly unconstitutional, whereupon the children were allowed to go home that same day. Since the allegations did not solidify even after further investigations, the charge was dropped after a short while.

Police raid at the religious community "Twelve Tribes" in Nördlingen, Bavaria.

History now repeats in Germany, although with the following difference: Next to individuals like "career" apostate Robert Pleyer, Focus reporter Axel Wolfsgruber, or RTL reporter Wolfram Kuhnigk who personally benefit from the media attention, it is mainly the controversial anti-cult organization FECRIS that is behind the demagoguery campaign targeted against the religious community and works through "sect experts" (such as Sabine Riede or Wolfgang Behnk) to stigmatize religious minority communities. By nurturing public fear of "sectarian deviations" ("dérives sectaires" in the original FECRIS slang), the anti-cult lobby legitimizes its own existence as a "pool of experts" and receives public funds for their "informative and advisory activity."

Chronology of a Scandal: Police Raids in Nördlingen and Wörnitz - 41 Children Hauled off, Search Warrant was "Faxed in Later"

On September 5th, 2013, in the early dawn, around 30 police emergency vehicles pulled into Klosterzimmern, the property of the "Twelve Tribes" in Nördlingen, Bavaria. Since on that day the community was keeping a holiday, the morning gathering, which usually would be at 6 o'clock, took place later and most community members were still sleeping. A 23-year-old brother in faith who was milking the cows shortly after 6 o'clock, was the first one to see the massive presence of police. He asked the officers what was going on and asked for a search warrant. Rather than showing it to him, they threatened to arrest him if he "continued to resist." The police surrounded the entire property only to storm the celebration hall where they were suspecting the morning gathering. Instead they found an empty hall.

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