A veteran of the war in Afghanistan could find out today if he’ll get jail time for taking his daughter to church in defiance of a Chicago family court order obtained by his estranged wife.
The couple is in a bitter divorce battle, and the question of what faith their child should be raised in is pushing the boundaries of child custody arrangements.
In fact, Reyes’ decision to baptize his daughter without his wife’s permission resulted in what some are calling an extraordinary court order: The Hon. Edward R. Jordan in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., imposed a 30-day restraining order forbidding Joseph Reyes from, according to the document, “exposing his daughter to any other religion than the Jewish religion … .”
The couple married in 2004. Joseph Reyes was Catholic, but he converted to Judaism — he said the decision wasn’t “voluntary” — to please his in-laws.
Despite his conversion, Reyes, 35, said he never stopped practicing Catholicism.
When the marriage fell apart, Rebecca Reyes, 34, got custody of their daughter. The girl, now 3, was raised Jewish and attended a Jewish pre-school.
He decided to baptize his daughter without consulting his wife.
Joseph Reyes sent his wife pictures and an e-mail documenting the occasion. Rebecca Reyes responded by filing for the temporary restraining order, which the judge granted.
Stephen Lake, Rebecca Reyes’ attorney, said his client was shocked at her estranged husband’s actions.
“Number one, it wasn’t just a religious thing, per se, it was the idea that he would suddenly, out of nowhere without any discussion … have the girl baptized,” Lake said. “She looked at it as basically an assault on her little girl.”
Furthermore, Joseph Reyes had never been a particularly devout Christian, Lake added.
When the girl’s father took her to church again — in violation of the order, he called the media to witness the event.
A court could rule today on whether Reyes should be jailed for criminal contempt, but he contends he did nothing wrong. He is moving to have the judge removed.
“Going to church, I don’t think I violated the order,” he told “Good Morning America.” “In terms of Judaism, based on the information I was given, Catholicism falls right under the umbrella of Judaism.”
In a YouTube video of the subsequent visit to church, Joseph Reyes says, “I am taking her to hear the teachings of perhaps the most prominent Jewish rabbi in the history of this great planet of ours.”
Lake, Rebecca Reyes’ attorney, said Joseph Reyes had never been a particularly devout Christian.
“This was just something that he knew was going to have a negative effect on [Rebecca Reyes], and I think that’s why he did it,” Lake said, speaking of Reyes’ church visits with the little girl.
“I think he was just trying to exert some power,” Lake said.
But Reyes, who is studying law, said he only wants to be a good father to his daughter and expose her to his faith. That’s something the courts usually allow in divorce cases, experts say.
Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, said a parent who has visitation rights “usually has the right to expose the child to his religious beliefs, teach the child his religion, to take the child to religious services, unless there seems to be likely psychological or physical harm stemming from that exposure.”
Family court law expert Lynne Gold-Bikin said Reyes should have followed the court order, but also said, “If this couple made an agreement about what religion to raise their child, then it’s an inappropriate order.”
Reyes said his faith is important to him.
Explaining his conversion, he said, “I did it because, one, my mother- and father-in-law would not accept me any other way and two, because they would not accept me, it was putting a lot of burden on the marriage.”
While he acknowledged that his actions — flouting the court order and involving the media — didn’t help to end the conflict, he said he has to take a stand.
“I’ve made every concession that I possibly can make for Rebecca, and I have to draw the line in the sand somewhere and this is where I choose to draw it,” he said.