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Philip Caminiti mug shot

Philip Caminiti, 54, of Black Earth, leader of the Aleitheia Bible Church, is charged with eight counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse for allegedly teaching church members how to discipline their young children by striking them with wood spoons or dowels on their bare bottoms.

Dane County Sheriff's Office

A Dane County judge on Thursday denied a motion to dismiss charges against a Black Earth pastor convicted of conspiracy to commit child abuse for advocating the use of wooden rods to spank children as young as 2 months old.

Philip Caminiti, 55, pastor of the Aleitheia Bible Church, was convicted in March of eight counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse for instructing church members to punish children by hitting them on the bare buttocks with wooden dowels to teach them to behave correctly, in keeping with the church's literal interpretation of the Bible.

The motion to dismiss the charges alleged Caminiti had been deprived of his constitutional right to religious freedom.

Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi found that Caminiti had "a sincerely held religious belief" as a Christian fundamentalist that requires using a rod to discipline children beginning at a young age. But Sumi said Caminiti failed to show 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 said, adding that Caminiti also was willing to modify the church's practices to comply with the law.

Sumi said testimony by Randall Balmer, an expert in religious history, put Caminiti's beliefs in a broader context and showed that what he believes "is not an aberration within that context."

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

But Assistant District Attorney Greg Venker countered, "It's actually the how that made this a crime," citing the young age of the children, that they were struck on bare skin and the reason they were hit.

Sumi had denied three other motions challenging the constitutionality of the child abuse statute prior to Caminiti's trial.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 25. Caminiti faces up to six years of combined prison time and extended supervision on each count.

Olson said he believes Caminiti wants to wait until after he is sentenced to decide if he will appeal.