Six more members of a Black Earth church are expected to face child abuse charges in what experts say is a rare — and legally indefensible — case of claiming the Bible dictates using a rod to punish children as young as 2 months.
"I think these are deviant people, not deviant beliefs," said law professor Michael Broyde, who is academic director of the Law and Religion Program and a project director at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta.
"It's an exceptionally rare view of the Bible that permits activity that would otherwise be considered abuse," said Broyde, who is also a rabbi.
"As I understand the Biblical text," he said, "there is no right in the Bible to commit child abuse."
People cannot defend themselves from a criminal charge "by saying my religion made me do it," Broyde said, adding, "The law ignores your religious motivation."
Last week, Philip Caminiti, 53, head pastor and elder at Aleitheia Bible Church, and his brother, John Caminiti, 45, both of Black Earth, were charged with a total of 12 counts of child abuse. According to a criminal complaint, they admitted using rods and dowels to hit the backsides of children in their family and other church families.
Both appeared in court Monday and were released on signature bonds with instructions from Court Commissioner Todd Meurer not to inflict corporal punishment on any child and not to discuss the case with other people who will be charged, along with child witnesses and victims.
On Friday, subpoenas were sent to three couples who are church members to appear Thursday in Dane County Circuit Court on charges of being a party to intentional child abuse of their children, causing bodily harm, said Dane County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Elise Schaffer.
They are: Andrea L. Wick, 26, and Timothy J. Wick, 27, of Mazomanie; and Alina N. Caminiti, 24, Matthew B. Caminiti, 27, Maria J. Stephenson, 29, and Timothy D. Stephenson, 28, all of Black Earth.
The Sheriff's Office began investigating in November after former church members expressed concerns about the mistreatment of children, Schaffer said.
The victims are 12 children, ranging in age from infants to age 6, she said. Their parents described redness and bruising as common results of the spankings.
Schaffer said church members were open about their "spare the rod, spoil the child philosophy" and described using wooden dowels and wooden spoons on the bare skin of children as young as 2 months. The dowels were 12 inches to 18 inches long and the diameter of a quarter.
Church members said Philip Caminiti instructed parents on how to use rods for spankings, Schaffer said. One person described children being grumpy, emotional or crying as behaviors that warranted a spanking with a dowel.
Schaffer said the church was formed in 2006 when some members of the Curtiss Street Bible Fellowship broke away to start their own congregation.
She said the new church was started with a donation of between $500,000 and $600,000 from Bob and Lori Wick of Mazomanie.
Lori Wick declined comment Monday, saying attorneys have advised them not to discuss the case.
While experts say there is no clear threshold that differentiates discipline from abuse, Schaffer said Wisconsin law considers child abuse to be anything excessive or beyond reasonable discipline.
Sociology professor Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire and an expert on the effects of spanking, said that in addition to immediate physical harm, corporal punishment can lead to long-term psychological problems.
"The more spanking, the greater the probability of a child being depressed as an adult," Straus said, adding that children who are spanked also are more likely to be delinquent and to get in trouble.
Straus said he considers using wooden rods to discipline youngsters to be both child abuse and a violation of children's rights to be brought up without violence.
State Journal reporter Ed Treleven contributed to this story.