- Associated Press - Friday, December 9, 2016

BAY MINETTE, Ala. (AP) - Authorities removed 22 boys from a Christian boys’ boarding school in Baldwin County after claims of abuse.

Anthony Lowry of the Sheriff’s Department told AL.com (https://bit.ly/2hnY0D2 ) that some kids at the school ran away to a neighbor’s house and “made allegations of abuse.”

The sheriff’s department contacted the Department of Human Resources which got an order to have the children removed from the school. The department and law enforcement raided the school in Seminole last weekend, removing 22 boys between the ages of 8 and 17.

The children have been sent to their families out of state.

No charges have been brought against the staff or against Gary Wiggins, the founder of the Blessed Hope Boys Academy. Lowry said if the children or their parents come forward with allegations of abuse they will be investigated.

Jeremiah Giles, an attorney for Wiggins said the abuse allegations are baseless and they believe some kids made up the story.

“In no way does he (Wiggins) think there has been any abuse or any kind of mistreatment that’s happened. He feels like he was called to ministry and is doing what God wants him to do,” Giles said. He said Wiggins hopes to get the school up and running again soon and that some of the boys’ families have already contacted him to see when they can send their kids back.

The newspaper reports that the school is outside of state regulation and oversight, claiming a religious exemption. According to Alabama law state regulation for religious schools would be an unconstitutional burden on religious activities.

But State Rep. Steve McMillan (R-Baldwin County) said he plans to introduce bills in the next legislative session to address the lack of oversight.

“I’ve got ideas about what I’d like to propose to protect the children but that would not be an infringement on religious rights,” he said.

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