Exclusive: Mother Talks About Whether Estranged Dad Should Go to Jail For Taking Daughter to Church

Photo: Interfaith marriage and divorce: Joseph and Rebecca Reyes

The Chicago mother who took legal action to keep her estranged husband from taking their 3-year-old daughter to church speaks out in an exclusive "20/20" interview with ABC News' Chris Cuomo airing Friday.

Last week, ABC News spoke exclusively with Joseph Reyes, the husband in a bitter divorce battle who faces up to six months in jail for marching his toddler into a Catholic Church, cameras in tow, in defiance of a temporary court order that forbade him from exposing his daughter to "any other religion other than the Jewish religion."

VIDEO: Rebecca Reyes offers some insight into her bitter custody battle.
null

Joseph said that neither his Jewish wife nor a judge should dictate how he worships with his child and that he disobeyed the order "out of civic duty and out of a sense of justice."

Days after the media firestorm that followed Joseph's public appeal, Rebecca Reyes breaks her silence to explain why she is asking a Chicago family law judge to throw her husband in jail for taking daughter Ela to Sunday mass.

"This is about parenting, this is not about religion," Rebecca told Cuomo.

Rebecca said that Joseph is entitled to be Catholic and Ela can choose Catholicism when she is older, but they "had pledged in the marriage contract to raise Jewish children, and so we had a Jewish home." Joseph had converted to Judaism, complete with a ritualized circumcision.

"The constant undermining of who [Ela] is, who she was born as, and who we agreed she would be in our home, is really harmful," Rebecca told Cuomo. "There will be confusion; there will be an abrogation of her identity."

Watch the full story on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

This is also about Joseph's violation of a direct court order, Rebecca said.

"If this was so important to him, he has relief available to him. The court system," according to Rebecca.

"At this stage, it's about Mr. Reyes taking the law into his own hands," Rebecca's lawyer Steven Lake from Lake Toback told ABC News.

Above all, Rebecca adamantly maintained that Joseph put Ela at risk when he called a local television station to document his defiant church visit and that it was him, not her, who thrust their story into the media.

"Good parents do not exploit their children for their own financial or personal gain," she said.

This storybook romance, which began when the couple met in a boxing ring, has turned into a sort of holy war with a little girl caught in the middle.

Tune in Friday to "20/20" for an in-depth look at the custody battle that is threatening to put a father in jail and draw new boundaries in divorce cases.

Man Baptized Daughter Without Informing Estranged Wife

Joseph Reyes pleaded not guilty last Tuesday for violating a court order issued by Chicago family law Judge Edward R. Jordan, who had barred Reyes from taking his daughter to church following a dispute over religion with his estranged wife. In an exclusive interview with Cuomo last week Joseph maintained that he just wants "to be a great dad."

Reyes, an Army 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.

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' 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 says 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. Ela has been raised Jewish and attended a Jewish preschool until 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 and 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.

Woman's Lawyer Accuses Reyes of 'Power Play' With Baptism

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, and said, "If this couple made an agreement about what religion to raise their child, then it's an appropriate order."

Reyes: Conversion Wasn't 'Voluntary'

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.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 9924374.
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...