Joseph Reyes, the father who took his daughter to a Chicago church in defiance of a judge's restraining order pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday. He could face criminal charges and up to six months in jail.
Rebecca Shapiro, Reyes' estranged wife, filed a temporary restraining order against Reyes after he had their 3-year-old daughter Ela baptized in the Catholic church without her knowledge. In what some are calling an extraordinary court order, a family court judge imposed a 30-day restraining order forbidding Joseph from "exposing his daughter to any other religion other than the Jewish religion during his visitation."
With local media crews in tow, Reyes violated this 30-day court order and took his daughter Ela to church again. Shapiro asked for Reyes to be held in contempt of court, stating that his actions posed "harm" to their child.
Days before the ruling, Reyes sat down with "20/20" anchor and chief Law & Justice correspondent Chris Cuomo for a compelling interview.
Part of that interview aired Feb. 16 on "Good Morning America." The full transcript of Chris Cuomo and Joseph Reyes' interview, along with statements from Rebecca Shapiro's attorney, Steven Lake, are below:
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
CUOMO: Ok, so at the—yes, this is what's going on with you and your estranged wife, but the motivation for you here is your daughter, you say, right?
REYES: That's correct.
CUOMO: What does your daughter mean to you?
REYES: Everything. She is the nucleus of everything I do.
CUOMO: And what is your motivation where your daughter's involved in this situation?
REYES: I, for one, want to be an important part of her life, and I want to give her as great as a father as I can possibly be to her. And the second part of it, as goes the facts in this situation, I don't want her to grow up into a world where her fundamental rights are threatened or weakened by court decisions.
CUOMO: Fair criticism that this is not about what you want for your daughter, this is what you want to do to your ex-wife because you two are so mad at each other in a hostile, legal battle?
REYES: No, that's not my motivation at all. For one, I'm not really that angry with Rebecca. I think that some of her decisions are questionable, some of her motivations are questionable, but my motivations are on my daughter. So, to be angry at my wife and to somehow direct my actions at that, takes away from the important thing in this issue, and that's my daughter.
CUOMO: When you two were married, you're daughter was being raised Jewish. True or false?
REYES: That is false.
CUOMO: Because that's what we're lead to believe, right? That she went to a Jewish pre-school or something like that and that you and your wife had agreed that she'd be Jewish?
REYES: I had nothing to do with the decision for her to go to a Jewish pre-school. That was done after we were already in litigation.
CUOMO: And when you two were together, what was the religious decision-making?
REYES: There was no religious decision made in terms of Ela will be raised in this religion. Basically my wife and I had both practiced openly. For example, we would celebrate Christmas together, we would celebrate Easter together, we would also celebrate Rosh Hashanah together, we would celebrate Hanukkah together. So, it wasn't a matter of, you know, one or the other, it was a matter of celebrating both.
CUOMO: You converted to Judaism, yes?
REYES: Under pressure, yes.
CUOMO: But it was your decision, there wasn't a gun to your head.
REYES: There wasn't a gun to my head, but there certainly was a right choice or a wrong choice to be made at that point in time.
CUOMO: But you made the choice.
REYES: Under duress, yes.
CUOMO: Why under duress? Why not just say 'yes, I converted to Judaism'?
REYES: Because that would be disingenuous of me to say--
CUOMO: How so?
REYES: Because it wasn't a voluntary decision, 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.
CUOMO: But you were already married when you converted, right? So they accepted you.
REYES: They never accepted me.
CUOMO: But they did let you marry their daughter.
REYES: I don't think there was a whole lot that they could do to prevent Rebecca from marrying me. Rebecca makes her own decisions.
CUOMO: So then why convert? If you already married her, what do you care what they think about you?
REYES: Not that I care what they thought about me, it's that the way they were behaving toward Rebecca and toward me was putting a major strain on the marriage. And obviously the strain had some effect, because we are in divorce court.
CUOMO: Now, if religion is so important to you, why would you have converted to a different faith?
REYES: I didn't change the way I practice religion, I went through the motions, but I still pray to Jesus at night, I still go to church, I still did all of the same things I did.
CUOMO: She says you didn't go to church, she never knew you to go to church.
REYES: That's a lie.
CUOMO: She's lying?
REYES: If she said that, yes.
CUOMO: Did you take your kid to church?
REYES: Did I take Ela? Well, of course it's all over the news.
CUOMO: No, no. (laughs) Thank you, thank you very much. Before all this, when she was first born and you were going to church, as you say, did you take her with you?
REYES: Ela had been to church. Now, because of our schedules, we didn't go to shoal or we did not go to church regularly. We pretty much limited it to the high holy days. But, we weren't able to observe one religion or the other with any regularity.
CUOMO: You didn't go to temple every week.
REYES: No, absolutely not.
CUOMO: And you say you guys were basically just pretty much open to religion, in general.
CUOMO: Some type of deism, you believe in God and you just—your practice both faiths.
REYES: Well, Rebecca practiced her faith, I practiced mine and we exposed Ela to each.
CUOMO: Do you think this would have happened—the baptism, bringing her to church—if you guys had stayed together?
CUOMO: Then why is your wife so surprised by this?
REYES: I don't think Rebecca is surprised by it. Rebecca is not a terribly religious person, for one. And that's evidence that she didn't go to shoal regularly, she married a Catholic boy, and that she doesn't keep kosher. So, in terms of this shock value that she claims is there, it really isn't
CUOMO: You're worried about pulling your daughter into something like this?
REYES: I never pulled my daughter into this.
CUOMO: How no?
REYES: For one, I didn't file for divorce. Well, I take that back, I did file for divorce, we both filed for divorce. I didn't pull my daughter into this situation because I didn't file the TRO.
CUOMO: Right, but once it was filed, you made a decision to take your daughter into a church, you called the local news, told them you were going to do it, held your kid up in front of the cameras and said 'you see, we went to church because this was the right thing to do.'
REYES: I didn't hold my daughter up in front of the cameras.
CUOMO: Well, all of the camera shots were of you holding your daughter.
REYES: I didn't hold her up in front. They wanted to accompany me; I said certainly, if you want to come and watch me go to church you're more than welcome to do that.
CUOMO: But you contacted them, right?
CUOMO: So you drew the attention to this situation.
REYES: This attention merits—or excuse me, this situation merits attention.
CUOMO: Do you understand how it could seem as though you were engaged in a battle with Rebecca?
REYES: I am engaged in a battle with Rebecca, that's what divorce is.
CUOMO: But that this is an assault within that battle of divorce, that you've brought religion in and your kid in and now that's part of this battle, you understand why it can be seen that way?
REYES: I understand why it can be seen that way. It's not an accurate depiction.
CUOMO: What is the accurate depiction?
REYES: The accurate depiction is the only thing I want to do is be the dad that I am to my daughter. And Rebecca, I would think, would want that for her daughter, as well.
REYES: The accurate picture is that I am a dad that loves my daughter. I love my daughter very much and I would think that Rebecca would want that for our daughter. I would think that Rebecca would embrace the fact that Ela has a great dad. Instead, Rebecca only wants to breed more and more conflict into this.
CUOMO: Do you think you're making it better by flouting the order and calling in the media?
REYES: I don't think that that helped to basically end the conflict. But, at some point, when you do as much has been done to me in this situation, there is a straw that breaks the camel's back. 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. My faith means a lot to me.
CUOMO: So is it about your faith or is it about you getting pushed around by Rebecca?
REYES: It's about both – it's that Rebecca is doing everything that she can to me and now is trying to encroach on my religion? I can't—at some point in time, any one of us would have a breaking point, and I have to take a stand, otherwise, she'll just keep pushing and pushing and pushing, until I am probably pushed out of Ela's life somehow.
CUOMO: Now, rebut this—she says, this whole religion is central to Joseph. Rebecca doesn't buy it. She says he converted to Judaism, I never really saw him in church, I didn't know he was so -- Catholic was so important to him, we both agreed that our daughter would be raised within Judaism, we sent her to a Jewish pre-school. Where is this coming from?
REYES: I didn't send her to a Jewish pre-school, Rebecca sent her to a Jewish pre-school. I was never part of that decision, for one.
CUOMO: It was after you two were together?
REYES: After we were separated.
CUOMO: And what about the other things, that you converted to Judaism.
REYES: Rebecca knows the motivation behind my conversion. As a matter of fact, at some point in time, Rebecca looked at me and said, 'you know, I honestly thought that they would have accepted you when we did this. I don't understand why they won't.'
CUOMO: Even after you converted, you still didn't get accepted?
REYES: That was when that conversation was had, yeah, we did—we were dumbfounded as to why her parents weren't going to accept me.
CUOMO: So explain to me again. Your Catholicism is very important to you, but you still converted.
REYES: I went through the motions.
CUOMO: What does that mean?
REYES: I did, you know, I went and talked to a rabbi, I went through all of the requisite things in order to convert. But I still prayed the same way, I still worshiped the same way. My beliefs were still held the same way.
CUOMO: And about going to church, Rebecca says she never you go to church. You're saying that's a lie.
REYES: That is a lie
CUOMO You did go to church?
REYES: I did go to church. I didn't go regularly, as regularly as I would have liked. Time didn't permit for it. We were new parents, I was in school, Rebecca was working, we had a lot on our plates, so I couldn't keep up with it. I would have liked to.
CUOMO: What would have been wrong with waiting the 30 days and just going to court and having this discussion and figuring out an accommodation?
REYES: This was never going to be limited to 30 days, this was going to be a matter of 'we're going to keep filing order and order after order,' and I know how the other side plays. They don't play very nicely.
CUOMO: Is this about—it can't be about both-- it can't be about all things at once. It can't really be about what's important to Joseph for his faith, the distinction between Judaism and Catholicism or the lack of one, and that Rebecca's pushing you around in court. It can't be equally all those three things, it has to be really about one thing mainly.
CUOMO: What is the main push for you in this situation? Is it this faith discussion or is it 'I'm not getting pushed around by this woman anymore'?
REYES: If there's one thing that this is all about, it's about my daughter, plain and simple. I love my daughter. I'm a great parent to my daughter, and that's it.
CUOMO: How does she benefit from this, your daughter?
REYES: Benefit from what part of this?
CUOMO: All of it, all this—everything that's going on, you may be going to jail, this protracted legal battle the media called in--
REYES: I don't want a protracted legal battle, for one. This could be over if Rebecca was reasonable. I have made many concessions to Rebecca. But Rebecca doesn't want me in Ela's life. It's hard to sit there and say, 'well, let's agree to disagree on certain things. You be a great mom to our daughter, I'll be a great dad to our daughter. And, you know, the rest will fall into place. But if one parent doesn't want the other parent in the child's life, you can't reconcile that with a simple document or a simple agreement.
CUOMO: You worried about the exposure of your daughter to this situation?
REYES: Absolutely, I don't want my daughter to know that her parents can't get along or even that, you know, her parents don't like one another. That's a terrible thing.
CUOMO: What is the reality of the relationship between you and Rebecca right now.
REYES: I find Rebecca's character very very questionable because, this is a mother that knows, has acknowledged that I am good for Ela, and yet, she wants to see me put away for 6 months? Forget about what she wants done to me or what her personal feelings are about me or whether or not I violated the law in a court order. Why would you disrupt your child's life for 6 months?
CUOMO: What do you think the answer to that is?
REYES: You would have to ask Rebecca.
CUOMO: Her lawyer says that's what the law is. That when you violate the order, you're asking for up to 6 months in the Cook County Jail.
REYES: Rebecca and her attorneys made the conscious decision to pursue this criminally as opposed to civilly. This is a civil matter, divorce is handled in the family courts, those are civil courts, they wanted to make this a criminal matter. It's disingenuous of them to make it sound like this is Joseph having done something, he brought it upon himself. No, it's not that.
CUOMO: Why didn't you baptize your daughter when most Catholics do, you know, a few months after the kid's born; why'd you wait so long?
REYES: Because there was part of me that wanted Ela to get an appreciation of what she was being baptized into, you regarded as being introduced to the faith or whatever the case might be, but I wanted Ela to have an awareness as to what was going on. That was really how we got to that point. Ela and I were sitting here, one Sunday morning and she asked where her grandmother and her great grandmother went. And I said they went to church, and she wanted to know about church, so then we went to church and she decided that she wanted to get more involved, and I talked to her about baptism and she wanted to do it. It was a great day.
CUOMO: She's 3, right?
REYES: She is 3.
CUOMO: Not that compelling an argument that the 3 year old wants it, that's why you did it. I mean, you know, right?
REYES: Well, certainly she doesn't understand the symbolic aspect or the relevance of it or however you look at it. I happen to think it's a major occasion in someone's life, but I'm Catholic so that's how I regard it.
CUOMO: It is, but we do it, Catholics, when the kids are very young, and the idea 'well I wanted the kid to have an appreciation, that's why I waited'? Well then you'd wait till she was some kind of teenager or something like that, where she had some kind of independent thought and drive and purpose.
REYES: To some extent, yes, to some extent there's part of me that feels as though if she was 9 or 10 or in a more advanced age, she would get it more, it would be more of an informed decision, but at the same time, it was something that she showed interest in doing, I'm happy to share my faith with her, it's not dangerous--
CUOMO: I'm with you on the dangerous, it just looks that, in timing, you didn't do it with Rebecca when you were married, but now you're doing it and it begs the question, are you doing it now because you want to exert some control and so 'see? This is what I can do. She's my daughter, too. You could have done it for the last 3 years, but you didn't.
REYES: I'm not trying to exert some kind of control. But Ela—but my daughter is my daughter too, and, as a result, I am entitled I think to share certain experiences with her.
CUOMO: Anything else you want us to know?
REYES: I'm a great dad, I love my daughter, there's a lot of great dads that love their daughters who are out there that the system just doesn't treat fairly.
CUOMO: You think if the tables were turned here and Rebecca wanted to introduce your child to a different religion, which this would have happened the same way?
REYES: Well if the tables were turned, it certainly would have happened a different way. For one, unless there is serious harm to my daughter, I wouldn't have marched into court and filed a motion for a TRO. The second part of that is there is a definite gender bias in terms of the court system.
CUOMO: Bias towards moms?
CUOMO: Did you think that it would be good for her that the media came in?
REYES: Did I think it'd be good for Ela to see cameras shoved into our faces? No I didn't think it would be a good thing directly, but indirectly, if we can keep the situation from getting way out of hand, which unfortunately in the family court system has a knack of doing, and see that justice is done and that I can be a parent to my daughter, then there's an indirect benefit there.
REYES: Oh, can I add one thing?
REYES: With regard to this alleged harm, Rebecca has contacted not one expert on the subject to reinforce this allegation—that practicing my faith with Ela is a harm. I've contacted—I've contacted the court-appointed therapist to ensure that there would be no harm to Ela, and she came back and said there is no harm to exposing your child to two faiths.
CUOMO: Where was that therapist the court appointed during the motion for the TRO?
REYES: Curiously, the judge never spoke to her.
CUOMO: Alright thank you, Joseph.
Well there's a 3-year old daughter involved and basically these parties have always raised the little girl in the Jewish religion, and there was never a written agreement but this is just the way they lived. Mr. Reyes has, a matter of fact, converted to Judaism during the marriage and they went to synagogue every weekend, and according to my client, he never went to church during the entire marriage.
To the best of my knowledge, they hadn't discussed it at all. And the way she found out about it was he-he… on one of his visitations, he had surreptitiously had the child baptized and sent her an email with pictures of the baby in a little dress and here you go, here's our daughter being baptized, that's how she found out.
She was shocked, number one it wasn't just a religious thing, per say, it was the idea that he would suddenly, out of nowhere without any discussion having never gone to church, have the girl baptized. He looked at it--she looked at it as basically an assault on her little girl.
I think he was just trying to exert some power. We never knew him to be a particularly religious man and certainly not someone who was a devout Christian. He had converted to Judaism, had never gone to church, had never expressed that he wanted to raise his daughter as a Christian. So, yes, we saw this as basically pulling a shot and now suddenly he's found religion and it's become a very important issue to him in the last 2 months.
CUOMO: So that takes us to the obvious question: why are you doing this?
REYES: Doing what?
CUOMO: Why did you violate the temporary restraining order? Why'd you do it?
REYES: How can one not violate that order? For one, just out of civic duty and out of a sense of justice, it stands to be questioned. And the second part of it, it is so broad, how does one stay within the scope of it? However, I will add that going to church, I don't think, violated the order.
CUOMO: Why not?
REYES: Because in terms of Judaism, based on the information that I was given, Catholicism falls right under the umbrella of Judaism.
CUOMO: So you think that the court is going to accept that going to Catholic church is not doing something different than being Jewish?
REYES: Well, if the court wants to make that decision and get into doctrinal questions, I think its infringing into an area that it really has no right.
CUOMO: But why are you doing this? This isn't some crusade; you're not a religious advocate, right? Why go through all this?
REYES: I guess for the same reason that Rosa Parks didn't move on the bus. Out of a sense of justice, out of a sense of wanting to see that the right thing was done.
CUOMO: But does the religion matter that much to you? Does it matter to you whether your daughter is raised within the scope of Judaism or Catholicism?
REYES: Religion matters to me. I was raised in a Catholic home, it' a fundamental part of who I am, and it's a hard thing to conceal from my daughter, foremost, and in addition to that, there's also an underlying principle, which is that I want my daughter to know that there's a lot of diversity—a beautiful amount of diversity in the world.
CUOMO: How did Rebecca react when you told her that you had baptized your child?
REYES: She responded, in kind, with a motion for a temporary restraining order.
CUOMO: But did she say anything to you at the time? Did she say 'why?' or 'I don't like that' or 'I don't care' or anything?
REYES: No, she just filed a motion for a temporary restraining order. And there was a delayed reaction, it wasn't in the media yet, probably two or three weeks later.
CUOMO: So there was never any kind of phone all or any kind of discussion about what had happened and feelings or anything like that?
REYES: As I said, Rebecca and I don't really speak about much.
CUOMO: Fair criticism that the movement of faith, of bringing your daughter into a new church, the baptism, is an attack on your wife? A movement for independence to have ownership of your daughter?
REYES: No. No, I am a father to my daughter. And part of being a father to my daughter is exposing her to thing that I have learned, exposing her to who I am. And the whole church angle fits neatly into that.
CUOMO You told Rebecca that you had the child baptized.
REYES: I sent her pictures. I sent her pictures and I sent her an email, and it was actually sort of an olive branch reaching out to her--
CUOMO: How so, what'd it say?
REYES: It basically said, you know here are some photographs of our beautiful daughter on this occasion, and it's a shame that there's so many poor feelings between us that we can't celebrate these occasions together.
CUOMO: Did you think of inviting her to the baptism?
REYES: I did think about inviting her to the baptism, absolutely.
CUOMO: Did you?
REYES: No, I ultimately didn't invite her. And part of the reason I didn't invite her is Rebecca decided that we should have separate birthday parties for Ela, and the baptism was part of the birthday celebration.
CUOMO: Sounds a little tit-for-tat; she doesn't want you at the birthday, so you don't invite her to the baptism.
REYES: I don't think she would have come if I had invited her. It's not tit-for-tat, not from my perspective anyhow. She made it clear that she didn't want me where I was going to be. She made it clear that my time with Ela was my time with Ela, and that she had no desire to impose upon that.
CUOMO: How'd you find out about the TRO?
REYES: Umm, my lawyer, my lawyer was faxed a copy and contacted me, letting me know about the TRO.
CUOMO: What'd you think?
REYES: I thought it was ridiculous, I thought the judge would just throw it out.
CUOMO: Well the judge—that's right you saw the application for the TRO.
REYES: Yes, sir.
CUOMO: And were you present when the judge made his decision?
REYES: I was present when the judge made his decision.
CUOMO: And what'd you think?
REYES: I was ---really just in a state of disbelief. My jaw, it just hit the ground because he basically went through his reasoning which was all based on doctrinal separation; an area that typically, the judicial system abstains from getting into. And the second part of it was that the judge was just nasty about the whole thing.
CUOMO: How so? What was it like in common speak, what did the judge say when you were in there. What was his decision?
REYES: The judge told me that I was stupid for having my daughter baptized and then subsequently called me dumb.
CUOMO: Dumb because?
REYES: Because I had my daughter baptized?
CUOMO: And why? How did he see it?
REYES: I don't really know how he saw it, he engaged in name-calling, gave his decision, based it on the distinction that he made in his mind's eye between Judaism and Catholicism, and that was the end of it.
CUOMO: You can't see that part of the judge's position, that Catholicism and Judaism are fundamentally different things to people who practice the faiths? Not that we don't like each other, you know, not that you don't get along, not that there's not comedy between the religions, but that to a Jew, to a catholic, the two are different.
REYES: I wasn't raised that way. I've gone to parochial schools all my life, most of what I know about Judaism I learned in a Catholic school.
CUOMO: Right, but at some point in that school, they had to teach you that being a Catholic means believing certain things about who Jesus Christ was that Jews do not believe.
REYES: Well, that's not entirely correct because there are many areas of Judaism that, in fact, recognize Jesus.
CUOMO: As a rabbi, as perhaps a prophet, as a beautiful and wonderful man… not as the son of God, not as the son of God. Now, I am not here to have a theocratic conversation with you. This is not about religion or, you know, what it is or what it isn't, but you are making it that way. And it seems cute, that's why I'm asking you all the questions.
CUOMO: All you had to do was wait the 30 days. Let the TRO play out and then go argue it out. Get in front of a judge, say by the way, there's no difference between these two religions, for whatever that's worth, and this is what I want. I'm not going to hurt the kid, I want to bring her to church. I grew up Catholic, it's important to me. Why didn't you just do it that way?
REYES: This was never going to be a temporary matter. This was a temporary matter to instantaneously stop me from a particular type on conduct, that being going to church.
CUOMO: Yes, and it bothered you.
REYES: Well, there's a long-term desire here.
CUOMO: Right, but it bothered you. The TRO bothered you, right?
REYES: As a citizen, certainly it bothered me--
CUOMO: As a citizen, as a dad, as Joseph it bothered you. You didn't like that you were being told by a court what your wife was saying which was don't go do this with the kid, you didn't like it. It's fair, it's fair not to like it. I wouldn't like it, you know what I mean? It was something that bothered you, true?
REYES: It—certainly it bothered me.
CUOMO: Right, and rightly so. You want to do what you want to do with your daughter and now you're being told you can't and the court is backing up your wife. I get that. My point is this: it would only have been 30 days, and I know you're saying it's a long-term desire, but if it's a long-term desire, one more month, not you get to go in, you get to have a reasoned discussion, you're showing that it's not harming, you're not doing anything bad to your daughter, you're doing something that any parents should want. You're introducing them to a loving existence.
CUOMO Why didn't you do it that way?
REYES: I didn't do it that way, perhaps, for the same reason that Rosa Parks did not move on the bus. This is a very very ailing system, the family court system, that is. And unless people take a stand against this kind of conduct, it's never going to change. Imagine what this country would look like if Rosa parks moved or if Martin Luther King didn't. It's a scary place, isn't it?
CUOMO: I get the whole Rosa Parks thing, but how does that apply in this case? How are you Rosa Parks?
REYES: I'm not saying I am Rosa Parks--
CUOMO: I'm saying, how are you making that kind of stand? I know you're not saying you're Rosa Parks. How is this a stand that is bigger than, 'I don't want Rebecca to tell me what to do with my kid.'
REYES: There are dads all over this country whose rights to be a parent are being infringed upon, there are dads who aren't seeing their child because someone, the estranged wife, decided to go into court and make a bunch of false accusations. There's this standard which is completely undefined. The best interest of the child standard is really just a cloak for the courts to do whatever it chooses to do. That's horrible.
CUOMO: All valid points, all valid points. But how did you help the situation by violating the process? You went against a court order, you know—you're studying to be a lawyer, you know only bad can happen when you do that.
REYES: I think that there's a reasonable question to be raised in terms of whether or not I violated the court order by going to church. That's a doctrinal discussion that the court should not be having.
CUOMO: Assuming that it becomes accepted, that by going to a Catholic church you were doing something different than the order was dictating, which is stick to Judaism, assuming that--
CUOMO: -- just for the purposes of this. By going, you did what the order was telling you not to do. You did expressly what it was telling you not to do, assuming that the discussion of religion is assumed to be as most would understand it. REYES: If you look at the court order, then I could have violated it anytime I walked in front of a Christmas tree, I could have violated it anytime I spoke to a friend that happened to wear a burkha….
CUOMO: You appealed it.
REYES: I did appeal it.
CUOMO: And what happened?
REYES: The appeal—the appeal upheld the order.
CUOMO: So, what does that tell you? In terms of how you're supposed to respect the system, you made an argument, the judge still granted the TRO. You then said you're not supposed to be involved in these kinds of arguments, so you appeal it, it gets upheld. Doesn't that tell you that you're supposed to respect it at least for 30 days?
REYES: It tells me that we have some serious problems in this country, that's what it tells me.
CUOMO: Were you surprised that when you violated the order, that instead of getting hauled back into court--family court to fight this out, that it was made a criminal matter by Rebecca?
REYES: No, no I wasn't surprised at all because if there is an end game that Rebecca perceives in all of this it's getting me out of our daughter's life.
CUOMO: Well, you may have helped her in that now right, if you end up losing the legal battle because did you—did you ever anticipate jail may enter this little story?
REYES: For six months?
CUOMO: Any jail—when you made the decision to violate the order, did you ever think 'I may wind up being separated from my child for a little while.'
REYES: If the courts do what they're supposed to do, what they claim to do, and that is, act out of the best interest of the child, there is no conceivable way that they would ever look at jailing a father for something like this to be in the best interest of the child.
CUOMO: How confident are you in that?
REYES: I am 100% confident that that what I'm saying is true. But courts don't look at the best interest of the child. Courts look at what they want to do, I mean, judges--judges in this system play God.
CUOMO: Are you worried that you're going to lose?
REYES: Of course I'm worried that I'm going to lose. If the courts do what they are legally obligated to do, then I'll win this. But I know that in the family court system, judges do not always follow the letter of the law. They're given way too much discretion, there's not the appropriate overview on this system, and they get away with murder.
CUOMO: Was it worth the risk? Now that you look back on where you are right now and what could lie ahead, was this the best way to go about it?
REYES: It's worth the risk if there's some good that comes out of it. It's worth the risk if there is some dialogue that'd had amongst people, it's worth the risk if there are changes to the system, it's worth the risk if my daughter grows up into a world where her constitutional freedoms are protected the way they ought to be.
CUOMO: Rebecca's lawyer says 'this is about control for Joseph, he's trying to get some control over his daughter because he's not doing well in the legal battle, and he's angry.' Fair?
REYES: No, it's not fair.
CUOMO: Why not?
REYES: Because it's not true.I-I -- If this is about control, it's about her wanting to exercise absolute control over the upbringing of my daughter, and using my daughter as a conduit to control me. That's just sick.
CUOMO: Bringing the media into it; why?
REYES: That's the only way I'm ever going to get any kind of fairness, it's the only way I'm ever going to keep the system honest, and hopefully, God willing, something changes. This situation is really ugly and it's having a negative effect on families and on this country. The media needs to take attention.
CUOMO: And what do you want them to see?
REYES: I want them to see that this system is broken. It's an ailing system.
CUOMO: And how do we see that it's broken in this situation?
REYES: The fact that this order was even issued speaks to the fact that judges are willing to encroach on fundamental rights simply to appease an unreasonable party in divorce hearings.
CUOMO: It's not unusual though for judges in family law situations to say, 'it seems that there was an arrangement here for one particular faith, now something different is being done, we're going to halt it with a temporary restraining order until we can figure out what's best here.' It's not unusual.
REYES: Having been in court that day, this order was not issued as a temporary restraining order. This order was issued as a preliminary injunction without hearing.
CUOMO: But you know that, as a part of process, judges doing what's going on here is not unusual, right?
REYES: And that's maybe a sad fact in this country.
CUOMO: That—but I'm saying, with respect to the subject matter, the idea of a judge in a family law case inserting themselves and saying hold on, it seems that there's being change to an arrangement with respect to the religion of a child. We're going to stop whatever's being done right now, so we can figure out what's best here. That's not unusual.
REYES: The legal test is, with regard to a harm to the child, that's the—that's the missing legal element here. There's no harm to Ela, that I took her to church, there's no harm to Ela that I had her baptized. The only time that you ever hear of baptism being spoken of as a harm is in intolerant circles.
CUOMO: True, to a point. But there's also the idea of harm through confusion. That you don't want the kid to be following mixed paths, conflicted paths between the parents. You want especially something important and central to somebody as their faith. You want accord, you want it clear, you want it considered. Fair point?
REYES: If you buy into that, if you buy into the idea of confusion and we're going to—we're going to limit exposure, then where does that stop? That same logic can be applied to issue in order that says 'well, we're not going to expose this person to minorities, we're not going to expose this child to specifically African Americans or Hispanic Americans,' and in fact, in a roundabout sort of way, that's exactly what this order does. Because the Catholic faith and Christianity are so deeply embedded into cultures in Ireland, in Italy, in Mexico, and in the Philippines. Am I not supposed to expose her to those people in the course of their ordinary lives?
CUOMO: But that's a little bit of a logical leap here, isn't it?
REYES: It isn't.
CUOMO: I mean isn't this just that this is pretty meat and potatoes. This is the kid seems to have been Jewish up until now, you're taking her in a different direction, let's hold on and figure out if this is the best thing for the kid. You could look at it that way Joseph, I mean, that's the way it reads.
REYES: It's not a different direction. Rebecca knows this. The courts never, never regarded any kind of status quo they were preserving.
CUOMO: Ah, now that is an interesting point. What was the truth of the status quo, because, as an outsider, I look at it pretty meat and potatoes. The kid, they're both Jewish, on some level, the kid is going to the Jewish school, seems like they want the kid to be Jewish, now that they're divorcing, he wants something different, I get what the court's doing. But you're saying I'm not seeing the reality of what life was. What was the reality?
REYES: The reality of it is that my perspective was that the home should be fairly secular but that Rebecca and I would practice our religions openly and honestly in front of Ela, and that Ela would grow up in a home where she can get an understanding and appreciation for the different faiths, the differing ways of acknowledging God. And, in fact, we have Muslim friends, that I'm sure Rebecca and I would both encourage to share their faith with Ela on some level, and at some point, when Ela gets to the appropriate age, she's going to make the conscious decision that she wants a relationship with God to mirror one of those, or maybe not.
CUOMO: But you're saying that Rebecca should—you're saying that Rebecca knows that you wanted to expose your daughter to Catholicism and Judaism. It wasn't supposed to be just one.
REYES: Absolutely. Absolutely, and what speaks to that in a very glaring and obvious way is the fact that Rebecca and I celebrated Easter, Rebecca and I celebrated Christmas, as a matter of fact, Rebecca celebrated Christmas and Easter before we even met.
CUOMO: What do you think's going to happen?
REYES: With regard to this pending litigation?
CUOMO: Yes. Tuesday, it's coming up, big day… what do you think happens at the hearing?
REYES: I think Joel and I are going to file for a change of venue and I think that we are going to ask for a jury trial. I can't see a judge being anything less than biased under the circumstances.
CUOMO: So you don't think that Tuesday, it's going to be the end of it, right? They should—if you asked for change of venue, you should probably get it right?
REYES: Tuesday's going to be the beginning not the end.
CUOMO: So what do you think—how do you think it turns out?
REYES: I would hope that a jury would see through all that's happening and would basically acquit me.
CUOMO: And then what happens?
REYES: And then we move on with our lives and hopefully, Rebecca realizes these silly motions and orders that keep going on in the court system are really just spinning wheels in the sand. We can finalize this divorce, we can hopefully both be great parents to Ela.
CUOMO: Do you think that this will make the situation better or worse between the two of you, going forward?
REYES: I think that if what I would like to see happen happens, then at some point there's going to b an acceptance on Rebecca's part that Joseph's a permanent part of our daughter's life. And, as she's already acknowledged, that Joseph's a great dad and we can just move on. There's got to be a healing process at some point, I would hope. This idea that there is all this anger that I harbor toward Rebecca is really just in Rebecca's imagination.
CUOMO: Is it fair for her to see your introducing Catholicism and going through the sacraments with your child as a way of bonding with her? To try to compete with the relationship with Rebecca or form something new and unique to you and your daughter that Rebecca can't have?
REYES: No, it's not a competition. It certainly is a bonding experience, it certainly is something that I share with Ela, with our daughter, but in order to buy into the ideology that it's somehow a competing element, absolutely not. I would always invite Rebecca to come with us and experience celebrating mass or celebrating any of the sacraments.
CUOMO: Tell me again why didn't you trust in the system, if you did it the way you were supposed to do which is when the TRO was issued and then held up on appeal, you wait the 30 days and you go through the system, make your arguments, come to a decision as a group. Why didn't you do it that way?
REYES: The system is grossly unjust, particularly towards dads and I have suffered enough injustice based on the prior litigation. I couldn't trust anything, I can't trust anything.
CUOMO: But what would have been the worst case scenario if you did it that way? REYES: That the judge would have perceived some status quo is being established, which in my opinion, would have been a bad status quo and then base prior rulings on his desire to maintain the status quo. And that's what happens in divorce litigation all the time. Dads are forced out of their children's lives, mostly because of some lies, and then judges will say, 'you know what, we evaluated the father, he's not a threat to the child, we'll grant visitation but we have to maintain the status quo.' The six months the dad was seeing a therapist or being evaluated in essence, creates this bad status quo that the courts claim they need to maintain.
CUOMO: And that's happened in your case right? You had supervised visitation for a while because of allegations that your wife made.
REYES: Yes, and you would think a light bulb would go on over the judge's head and he would realize, 'hey, you know all of these things that were said… the reason we gave Joseph supervised visitations, they're all untrue, they're all untrue, and maybe we need to look at the mom because what kind of mom would make up these lies and disrupt their daughter's life simply to keep the dad out of his daughter's life.
CUOMO: Was it demonstrated to the court that Rebecca's allegations were false? REYES: There was a lot—even before, even before there were supervised visitations, we had a guardian ad litem assigned to the case. I offered a ton of evidence: a suicide note from Rebecca, 147 pages of email messages in which Rebecca speaks to her negligence towards our daughter, a videotape of myself and Ela interacting, pictures of myself and Ela interacting… so, the guardian ad litem didn't look at any of this. She didn't want to see all of it, she refused it. And then she decided to write this report which is, in essence, supporting Rebecca's side. That's not representing my daughter, that's representing either someone that I'm partial to for whatever motivation.
CUOMO: Has anything ever been established during the case that whatever allegations she said about you weren't true?
CUOMO: You got off supervised visitation, right? So…
REYES: I did get off supervised visitation and there's been a lot that's come into the open with regard to areas where Rebecca's honesty is certainly questionable, if not refuted.
Statements from Steven Lake, Rebecca Shapiro's Attorney:
Well, we went to court after this happened because there wasn't anything in effect at the time. And we asked the court to restrain Joseph from taking his daughter to church until the court could make a determination as to how this child should be raised, which was really set for 30 days from when the order—this was just a temporary restraining order for 30 days.
Well, again it was a temporary order, it was only a 30 day order, so you didn't think there was any—I don't think the judge was making any decision for the daughter's lifetime. You know, this was for 30 days and I think because of the way Joseph had done it, he was shocked as we all were that he would go and have his daughter baptized without any discussion and it was so contrary to the way they had raised their daughter. She was going to a religious Jewish pre-school. There was never any issue in the case, the case had been going on for a year and a half and he suddenly out-of-the-blue does this, and I think the judge felt if he can do this, what was he going to do next?
Well, we'll find out how significant that is, that's what we're going to court on, but we've asked that he be held in criminal contempt of the court, because the first time, when he had the daughter baptized, there wasn't really a court order prohibiting him from doing that, but now there is and to flagrantly violate a court order and not only do it, but call a local TV – a CBS affiliate – to film it which they did was shocking to us and I think it's going to be shocking to the court.
Well, actually things had kind of calmed down earlier in the case prior, there was another allegation about Mr. Reyes and the court, in fact, restricted his visitations to supervised visitations. So or a long time during this case, he wasn't even allowed to see his daughter without a supervisor present. And that was just lifted a couple months prior to this incident. And he had this freedom, and as far as we're concerned, he abused his freedom. He just did something completely out of anybody's realm of what reasonable would be to take his daughter and have her baptized. There was absolutely no issue of religion that had been raised prior to this time.
She just wanted to raise her little girl. I mean, she's not trying to accomplish anything. She's just trying to defend herself and protect her daughter, at this point. We thought we had things under control, she's been awarded custody of her daughter, so that's not even an issue anymore. It's really just an issue now of a few visitation questions and now, of course, Mr. Reyes bringing this religious aspect to it is something that he just created, recently.
Well the judge hasn't done anything yet with respect to holding him in contempt, that's what the hearing is about on the 16th. But, you know, it wasn't just the judge—the judge ordered the initial restraining order. What maybe hasn't come out is that Joseph, through his attorney, took an appeal and the Illinois Appellate Court upheld what this attorney had done, so it wasn't just this judge but it was also the Illinois Appellate Court that has ruled that Joseph should not be doing anything to take his daughter to church, for example, until the trial. And the trial is only a few weeks away, so why he suddenly felt compelled to take his daughter to church just to make a point seems like a very unusual decision to make and doesn't seem to be—it seems to be more than just him raising his daughter as a Christian, I think he's just trying to call attention to himself, basically.
Well, I think it was the way Joseph had done it that created the restraining order because it was so out of the blue that he would take his daughter who had been raised all her life in the Jewish religion and just to have her baptized one weekend… it was shocking. And I think he judge thought it was poor judgment and that was his ruling. And the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his ruling, so it wasn't just this judge, but it was the Illinois Appellate Court. And, you know, keep in mind Joseph is in law school, he should know that he shouldn't be violating court orders, he knows that he's got a remedy in court, yet he chose to violate a court order and bring a film crew to watch it.
Well, it right now is about Joseph violating a court order. I think next month when we go to trial, we're going to find out how this child should be raised, at least for the next couple years. She's 3 years old, her identity is Jewish at this point. I think it's going to be up to the trial judge to decide at what point does this little girl get exposed to other religions so that she's not confused and her identity is intact. I think her mother feels very strongly that it had always been their decision to raise this little girl as a Jewish girl. And Rebecca is the custodial parent, and we will be arguing in court next month that this little girl should be raised Jewish, at least for the next couple years till she's old enough to understand the differences between religions.
I feel very strongly that this judge is going to take some action here because he flat out admitted, even on the tape that he was violating the order and he felt that he was going to exercise what he called his First Amendment rights, and I think that's going to be something that—I don't think the judge is going to look at this as a First Amendment case, you know, I think the judge is going to look at this as a man who's in law school who has legal remedies, who has a trial coming up in a couple weeks, that simple chose to violate this court order and take his little girl and put her on TV while he takes her into church.
Why was it wrong? I just think that it was wrong because this girl had always been raised in the Jewish faith and there was no discussion. There was no—this was just something that he knew was going to have a negative effect on Mom, and that's why he did it. I don't think it has anything to do with his religious beliefs. He never went to church the entire time they were married.
CUOMO: Did you baptize your daughter on the sneak?
REYES: On the sneak? No.
CUOMO: Without telling your wife—the child's mother?
REYES: Rebecca and I don't talk about a whole lot. Rebecca and I actually don't talk at all. So in terms of asking permission, or discussing beforehand, no we didn't have that conversation.
CUOMO: One would think it would be something you'd discuss with the mother though, you know, it's a pretty big deal.
REYES: No. No, I don't think that for one, that it's the deal that Rebecca is making it out to be. Rebecca makes it sound like baptism is some forced conversion. Baptism isn't that. And I think that speaks to some level of intolerance against Catholicism, against Christianity.
CUOMO: Baptism is recognized as an introduction into Christianity, and to somebody of a different faith, in this case being Jewish, that would seem as taking the child in a very different direction.
REYES: I don't agree with that. I don't think for one, it's a baptism into the faith. I think it's a baptism, if you buy into the sacrament of baptism, which I do because I'm Catholic, then it's a matter of cleansing original sin and it's a matter of welcoming someone into heaven, basically, it's not a matter of converting someone into a particular religion. Certainly, I think in some aspects, in some religions, maybe it's become that, but it's not that to me, which is why you have confirmation in the future. Confirmation is basically where you make the conscious decision of saying 'I am a Catholic.'
CUOMO: There's a whole process of it.
REYES: That's correct.
CUOMO: And when you get baptized in the Catholic Church, there is a lot of suggestion that you are now a member of that Catholic faith.
REYES: I think that the Catholic Church recognizes you, yes.
CUOMO: But, and do you understand why that might be upsetting to someone who's of a different faith and a mother of the child?
REYES: If you're a member of a different faith, I would think it would be of no value. And it would just be a matter of sprinkling water on someone's head, and you would see it as nothing more.
CUOMO: And explain to me why the idea of you being a devout Catholic isn't upset by the fact that you converted to Judaism and Rebecca says she never knew you to be a Catholic, that you didn't practice it, that she had no idea this was important to you.
REYES: I always wore a crucifix around my neck from the day Rebecca met me, so it's a little disingenuous to make the claim that she didn't know me to be a Catholic.
CUOMO: You always wear a crucifix?
REYES: Yes, I have one on now.
CUOMO: It seems a little cute. It's one thing if you want your kid to have faith. It's one thing if you're angry at your ex-wife and you want control over your daughter a little bit more. But to say I'm doing this because there's no difference between Catholicism and Judaism seems a little cute.
REYES: There are areas of Judaism where one can draw more of a distinction between, for example, orthodox Judaism and Messianic Judaism than there are between say Messianic Judaism and Catholicism.
CUOMO: I'll accept that. I'll accept that. It can get convoluted 1913 but is this really about a fight to say that Catholicism and Judaism are the same thing. Is that why you're doing this? That's what you want to come out of it?
REYES: This is more of a fight about the family courts getting way out of line. And involving themselves in areas of our lives that we don't want them, for one and that are constitutionally protected, for two.
CUOMO: So, this isn't so much about what is Judaism, what is Catholicism and how they're different. You just don't want the court to tell you how to raise your kid.
REYES: I don't think that the court should get involved in how parents raise their children, and in fact the Supreme Court has ruled that one of the fundamental rights we have is the right to determine how are children are raised. However, there's also a huge aspect here which is that the courts cannot tell me what the practice of Judaism is. Is the court going to tell me 'well, Mr. Reyes, if you are in fact practicing Judaism, you are going to grow a beard and wear a dark hat'? Or you are going to go to temple or you are going to acknowledge X, Y and Z? That's a very slippery slope.
CUOMO: It is, it is, for a law student, for an intellectual. But you've gotten your daughter caught up in this now. And there's an ugliness here. And I get the desire to have the debate and why it's important to you and you are going to be a lawyer, I get all that. I'm stained with being a lawyer, myself. But when you bring your daughter into it, and you're holding her up in front of television cameras, 'this is about her,' makes it a little different. Doesn't seem like it's about religion, it seems like it's about a control battle between two people who are angry at each other, and the child's caught in the middle.
REYES: The only thing that I want to be able to do is to be a great dad to my daughter. And I am a great dad to my daughter. Now, in terms of religion, and this supposed Judaism-Catholicism battle, that just doesn't exist. There's a—if there's a control element here, the control element is Joseph did something I didn't want him doing, and now I'm going to file a TRO.