BERLIN (TheBlaze/AP) — Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany and took 40 children from it on allegations they were being physically abused, authorities said Friday.

Bavarian police said the children of the so-called “Twelve Tribes” sect were taken into protective custody the day before as investigators look into allegations that they were being beaten and otherwise physically punished.

About 100 police were involved in the raids, which took place at two separate locations.

Authorities say 28 of the children were found at one of the sect’s locations in the area of the town of Deinigen, and 12 others in the Woernitz area.

German Police Raid Twelve Tribes and Seize 40 Children After Claims of Physical Abuse

This picture taken Thursday, Sept. 5, shows the village of Klosterzimmern near Deiningen, Germany, which is one of the homes of the “Twelve Tribes” sect. Police say they have raided the Christian religious sect in Bavaria and taken 40 children from them on allegations that they were being physically abused. Credit: AP

The sect said in a statement on its website that the children were aged 1 ½ to 17 and that they would remain with foster parents at least until a court hearing on Sep. 11. Here’s more about what the Twelve Tribes claims unfolded:

The Nördlingen district court issued a preliminary order for the temporary withdrawal of custody based on the her perception of a very high immediate risk to the mental well-being of children. The only legal facts in this decision, however, are that the parents of the children are part of the faith of the Twelve Tribes. Where is the legal basis here?  People cannot be found guilty based on their association with a religious faith.  Will we be treated differently than any other citizen simply because of our beliefs? [...]

Obviously, the court saw it as irrelevant to first get an accurate picture of the children and their well-being. The court’s decision came without any warning.  The police and the youth welfare office presented us with a fait accompli, and all their “facts” pre-arranged.  A previous visit to the judge never took place.

Still, in a description of the U.S.-founded sect’s beliefs, the group said its members believe in spanking their children though “we know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial.”

“We love our children and consider them precious and wonderful — because we love them we do spank them…” the group said. “When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage.”

Despite the denial, local police claim they have “new evidence pointing to significant and ongoing child abuse by the members,” the Telegraph reports. The alleged abuses were said to be both physical and emotional.

The sect, founded by Gene Spriggs (now known as Yoneq), a Tennessee high school teacher, in the 1970s, today has about 2,000 to 3,000 members worldwide, according to its website. Some critics have dismissed the group as a cult, but its members obviously deny this accusation.

The Twelve Tribes’ website has more about the theology held by its members. In a FAQ section, the religious group explains, “While we are, from time to time, called a cult, we are not false, unorthodox, or extremist.”

German Police Raid Twelve Tribes and Seize 40 Children After Claims of Physical Abuse

Gene Spriggs speaking to his followers in 2004 (Photo Credit: Twelve Tribes)

They have previously had problems in Germany for violating laws on homeschooling their children. UPI reports that the police have been observing the group’s educational patterns, noting that some of the children have not been sent to school; the sect’s own school has also apparently lost its teaching licenses.

This story comes after Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, a German homeschooling family, saw their home raided and their children taken away by German authorities last week.

The group’s practices have run afoul of the law in the U.S. as well, including in 2000 in Connecticut where a couple belonging to the group pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and cruelty for disciplining their children with a 30-inch (76-centimeter) fiberglass rod.

In 1984, authorities raided the group in Vermont and removed 112 children on abuse allegations. A judge later ruled the raid illegal and returned the children to their parents.

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