A Chicago man who defied a court order and took his toddler to a Catholic Church service was arraigned today on a charge of indirect criminal contempt in a custody battle that is threatening to put him in jail and draw new boundaries in divorce cases.
Joseph Reyes pleaded not guilty for allegedly violating a court order issued by Chicago family law Judge Edward R. Jordan who had barred Reyes from taking his 3-year-old daughter to church following a dispute over religion with his estranged wife. Reyes' wife, Rebecca Reyes, is Jewish.
Reyes, a veteran of the Afghan war, made a motion to have his contempt charges heard by a different judge, a motion that was granted. He was arraigned before Judge Elizabeth Loredo-Rivera.
If found guilty of indirect criminal contempt, Reyes could be sentenced to up to six months in jail.
The next court date is on March 3, when Reyes is expected to file a motion to dismiss all charges against him.
In a statement issued after the hearing, Reyes said, "There's a strong possibility I could end up in jail. It's really sad it's come to this."
Reyes and his wife are in abitter divorce battle, and the question of what faith their child should be raised in is pushing the boundaries of child custody arrangements.
Reyes' decision to baptize his daughter without his wife's permission resulted in what some are calling an extraordinary court order: 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 to please his in-laws. He has said the decision wasn't "voluntary."
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, has been raised Jewish and attended a Jewish preschool.
Her father 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.
"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."
Click HERE to read and comment on the full transcript of Chris Cuomo's interview with Joseph Reyes.
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.