The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday endorsed a move by German authorities to place children of members of the Twelve Tribes commune in foster care after news outlets reported the parents punish their children by caning.
Authorities in Bavaria moved to remove children from two Twelve Tribes communes in 2013, after news reports were corroborated with video footage of church members caning their children. Police removed 40 children, who were placed into foster care by court order.
Four families took their case to the European Court of Human Rights after striking out with German courts, claiming the court-ordered removal of their children violated their constitutional rights to have their private and family lives respected. They also complained about the length of proceedings in the German courts.
On Thursday, the human rights court unanimously endorsed the German authorities’ decision to remove the children from the communes and place them in foster care. While the court acknowledged doing so constituted an interference of the parents’ rights, the justices also praised the diligence of the German courts in carefully balancing the rights of the parents with the welfare of the children.
Specifically, the EU court noted the German courts took an individual approach rather than a blanket one, taking into account the age of each child and whether there were other options apart from removing the children from their homes.
In the end, the rights court agreed German authorities had no other options, as the parents considered corporal punishment of their children an essential element of raising them based on their “unshakeable” religious beliefs.
As for the length of proceedings, prior to the rights court’s hearing of the case Germany acknowledged it took too long to bring two families case to a close. The EU court ordered Germany to pay the two families just under $21,000 for the delay.
The rights court rejected the other two families’ claims, finding the court had been active with the case for the nearly two years it took to resolve it.
Considered by many religious experts to be a cult, the Twelve Tribes church sprang out of the Jesus Movement in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The group believes that all Christian denominations are fallen, and the only way to bring about the second coming of Christ is to restore the 1st-century church as it was according to the biblical Book of Acts and to create a new Israel made up of 12 tribes in 12 geographic regions.
The group has had numerous run-ins with German authorities, particularly over the issue of homeschooling which is mostly illegal in Germany. To settle the education issue, Germany has allowed the group to set up a private school supervised by the government with the understanding sex education and evolution are not taught.
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