Estranged couple bicker over daughter’s religious exposure

Rebecca Reyes opened an e-mail from her estranged husband last November to learn he’d had their 3-year-old daughter baptized in the Catholic Church -- despite his pledge to raise her in the Jewish faith, she said.

When she complained, a Cook County judge took the unusual step of temporarily barring Reyes’ husband, Joseph, from exposing their child to any faith other than Judaism.

Joseph Reyes allegedly defied the order by taking his daughter to Mass, with a television news crew in tow.

His wife’s lawyers blasted his defiance and demanded that he be held in criminal contempt.


As the couple’s private battles flare into the open, the case has raised questions about how far the courts can -- or should -- go in dictating which religion parents teach their children.

Joseph Reyes, a law student, said he decided to take his daughter to a Catholic church despite the court order after she’d asked about her paternal grandparents. He told her they were at church, and she asked to go there, he said.

His lawyer, Joel Brodsky, said every parent has a right to take their child to their place of worship “as long as it is not a harm to the child.”

“I cannot see how taking a child to a baptism or church could ever be a harm to a child,” Brodsky said.


Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Loredo-Rivera, who was brought into the case at the father’s request to replace Judge Edward Jordan, said Tuesday that she will set a date for trial on the contempt charge. If convicted, Joseph Reyes could face six months in jail.

The couple married in October 2004 and split four years later. Their divorce has raged since then. Rebecca Reyes complained of “extreme and repeated mental cruelty” by her husband, court records show; he alleged she was “emotionally abusive” and had an affair.

A psychologist concluded that Joseph Reyes suffered from a personality disorder and recommended that he be monitored while visiting his daughter. But after another psychologist weighed in, the court allowed the father to care for her without supervision every other weekend and one weeknight.

Rebecca Reyes was granted full custody last month, but the divorce battle continues.

In a sworn statement, Rebecca Reyes said that her husband, raised a Catholic, had converted to Judaism after their marriage and had agreed to raise their daughter in the Jewish faith.

Her lawyers argue that the daughter, who attends a Jewish preschool, would “suffer confusion to her emotional detriment” as a result of what they called Joseph Reyes’ “malicious” actions.

“I am upset that Joseph would take such an action so counter to [my daughter’s] Jewish religious education and upbringing without any prior discussion, consultation or notification to me,” she said in the affidavit.

Jeffery Leving, a divorce lawyer who specializes in fathers’ rights, said he would recommend that Joseph Reyes convert back to Catholicism if he wanted to expose his daughter to the faith without further incurring the judge’s wrath. He also questioned whether excluding the estranged wife from religious decisions and inviting the news media to watch him defy a court order was truly “in the best interest of the child, or is this a PR circus?”


“This is parental war,” Leving said. “The parents are using the child as a tool of revenge.”

Emily Buss, a law professor at the University of Chicago, called the order to temporarily limit the child to Judaism “striking.”

“The idea is we change religious views -- that is what religious freedom is,” Buss said. “Even if [one] parent has more authority in the form of more custody, the other parent can [usually] . . . still expose the child to his or her religion, even if it was not the religious practices within the family when it was intact.”