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Appeals court upholds conviction in religious child abuse case (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A couple who struck their children with rods was properly convicted of child abuse, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled Thursday in rejecting the defense’s argument that they were following their religion.

Matthew Caminiti and his wife, Alina Caminiti, were convicted of child abuse in March 2014 for hitting their two young children’s bare bottoms with wooden dowels starting when the children were 2- to 3-months-old. The couple attended Aleitheia Bible Church in Black Earth, which was led by Matthew Caminiti’s father and taught that children are to be disciplined with rods.

The Dane County Circuit Court ruled in 2014 that the state’s interest in protecting children from abuse outweighed the Caminitis’ freedom to follow religious teachings and control their children. The 4th District Court of Appeals upheld that ruling Thursday.

The Caminitis’ attorney didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

Pastor Philip Caminiti, Matthew Caminiti’s father, advocated the use of wooden rods to spank children and instructed that infants and toddlers were not too young to be struck to teach them to behave. Church members relied on biblical passages to justify the corporal punishment, including the verse, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” according to court documents.

Matthew Caminiti said in an affidavit that he interpreted the Bible to teach that as soon as a parent sees foolishness expressed, at whatever age, it is not to be taken lightly.

“It was clear with the children what they needed to do and if they disobeyed, then the spankings followed,” he said according to court documents. He also said he and his wife used a wooden spoon when the children were infants, and as the children got older, they used a wooden dowel.

Philip Caminiti also was convicted in 2012 of conspiracy to commit child abuse. A state appeals court upheld his conviction in 2014, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal a year later.

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