Wisc. Pastor Pleas Religious Freedom in Child Abuse Case; Judge Denies Motion

A Wisconsin judge has denied a motion to dismiss charges against a pastor who was convicted of eight counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse in March after he instructed parishioners to use wooden rods to punish unruly children.

A Dane County jury took less than two hours to convict 54-year-old Philip Caminiti, pastor of Aleitheia Bible Church in Black Earth, Wis.

Using a literal interpretation of the Bible, Caminiti allegedly instructed his parishioners on how to punish their misbehaving children, some as young as two months old, by spanking them with a wooden towel rod on their bare buttocks.

Caminiti was said to have cited Proverbs 13:24 in teaching parishioners about corporal punishment, according to Religion Clause.

The pastor then requested last week that Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi drop the convictions, saying they violated his constitutional rights to religious freedom.

"He's been prosecuted for exactly what the Bible tells him to do," Caminiti's attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, argued.

Judge Sumi refused to drop the charges, saying that although she believes Caminiti possesses "a sincerely held religious belief," the Christian pastor failed to show the court how the state's child abuse statute "places a burden on his sincerely held religious belief."

"Scripture doesn't specify how and when the rod should be used," Sumi added, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The distinction between child abuse and discipline has long been debated. While many traditional Christians point to the Bible to validate physical punishment, critics argue that any form of aggressive physical contact meant for punishment constitutes abuse.

Michael Pearl, an evangelical Christian pastor, author, and founder of No Greater Joy Ministries, has come under criticism and controversy due to his teachings about child rearing being linked in the media to three fatal cases of child abuse.

Pearl, along with his wife Debi, penned one particularly controversial book, To Train Up A Child, which uses Scripture to support the disciplining of children.

In an interview with The Christian Post in March, Pearl said he has no responsibility over the actions of parents, and discussed spanking as an option, and to be used in extreme moderation.

In an editorial on corporeal punishment published in Christianity Today in January, it was suggested that Christian parents "explore more creative and effective ways to train up our children."

In sum, the editorial argued that moderation must be practiced, and each instance of corporal punishment be assessed on a case-to-case basis.

Caminiti's sentencing is to take place on May 25, and he faces up to six years of prison time and extended supervision for each of his eight counts.

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