Dad could be jailed for taking girl to church

February 16, 2010 2:29:29 PM PST
Last month, Joseph Reyes violated a court order when he took his young daughter to services at Holy Name Cathedral.

The court order-- which states Reyes cannot expose the toddler to any religion other than Judaism-- came down after Reyes, 35, baptized his daughter without his wife's permission. His wife is Jewish and he converted, but the couple is in the middle of a bitter divorce.

Reyes says he was a practicing Catholic when he married his wife, Rebecca. He converted to Catholicism after his daughter's birth. Now, he says his estranged wife and the court is interfering with his right to expose his daughter to both religions.

"What I'd like to see happen is that the court stop overreaching and allow me to be a parent to my daughter," said Joseph Reyes, fighting contempt of court charge.

The already contentious process turned into a bitter battle over what faith to raise their daughter. Rebecca is Jewish. Joseph reclaimed his Catholicism after he says he converted to Judaism under pressure from his in-laws.

"Ironically as part of the Catholic faith, my marriage means something to me and I have a duty to preserve the sanctity of it and to lessen the burden that was being put on us. I regretfully converted," said Reyes.

When the marriage fell apart, Rebecca gained custody of their daughter. Reyes baptized her without consulting his wife, who then sought a temporary restraining order, forbidding him from exposing their daughter to anything other than Judaism, which was granted by a judge. Last month, Reyes violated the order by taking their daughter to Holy Name Cathedral. He was found in contempt of court. Reyes' attorney says the court overstepped its bounds.

"I don't think it's judge's place to define what is or is not within or without a religion in this country," said Joel Brodsky, attorney.

"Our client has confidence in the judicial system and she wants to try her case in court and not in the media," said Laura Ashmore, Rebecca Reyes' attorney.

Legal experts say the interest in this case is high because custody and religious issues are playing out in court.

"Whether or not the judge can constitutionally have issued the order, once the order is issued, he is legally bound to follow it," said Jane Rutherford, law professor, DePaul University.

The judge who granted the temporary restraining order recused himself of the case Tuesday morning. Now another judge is presiding over the case.

Reyes' next appearance on the matter is next month. It coincides with his divorce proceedings from his wife.