Most 2-month-old babies weigh no more than seven or eight pounds. Kids that age can’t walk or talk or do much of anything other than babble or cry or hope that the adults around them will have the good sense to feed or change or comfort them.

One of those adults in Black Earth, 53-year-old Philip Caminiti, believes children that age — if they are fussy for no good reason — should be punished by being hit with a rod, according to a criminal complaint filed recently in Dane County.

Caminiti — a father of nine who is also the pastor of the Aleitheia Bible Church — is far from alone in this belief. Members of his church, according to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, are quite open about their “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy.

Young children are hit hard enough to leave marks and bruises, according to criminal complaints; they’re hit in their homes; they’re hit if they misbehave in church. Some of the hitting is done initially with a wooden spoon, the complaints allege, but one church member allegedly told investigators they switch from a wooden spoon to a wooden dowel when a child is older and “meatier enough” to handle it.

There are so many similar allegations of abuse in voluminous criminal complaints that it is both mind-numbing and chilling — especially since the kids remained in their homes toward the end of March and may well still be there today. We can’t know for sure because the Dane County Department of Human Services, citing confidentiality laws, won’t even confirm knowing about the case.

They know, of course. They are “working” with the families, according to the sheriff’s office — a description that suggests they, unfortunately, aren’t in any big hurry to get the kids out of there.

This isn’t just about allegations of physical abuse. It’s about people apparently justifying it because of entrenched religious beliefs. According to the complaints, it’s also about a type of isolation and brainwashing that a licensed psychologist — after reviewing the reports — called “more extreme than any prison.”

A 16-year-old child was, for instance, shunned and confined to his room for three weeks, a complaint states, because of “repeated disobedience.” An adult woman, in the meantime, remained mostly in her bedroom for an entire month and even had to eat most of her meals there, according to a complaint that suggests she was following her husband’s instructions.

It is hard to imagine why any adult would willingly stay — but then there is an almost cultish thread to this story. Phil Caminiti is clearly the leader. But he is also described by former church members as a “creepy, overwhelming character” who could induce fear, as well as a guy who wanted people in the church to be “just like him.” One former church member told investigators that he left after Caminiti referred to himself as a prophet.

Caminiti — who is out of jail right now and has been instructed by a judge not to physically discipline any children as he awaits trial — couldn’t be reached for comment and his attorney did not return a call. But it is clear in the complaints that church members rely on the Bible as their guide. And, hey, the misguided literalists point out that it says right in Proverbs that “he who spareth the rod hateth his son.” “Withhold not correction from a child,” it also says, “for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die.”

Maybe not.

But, according to detectives, one of the adults in the church has already considered killing herself. And, assuming the criminal complaints are accurate, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the kids end up feeling the same way if somebody doesn’t give them a way out, and soon.

Mike Nichols is a former columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is now a senior fellow with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. His column reflects his personal views and runs every Wednesday. He can be reached at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.

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