Exclusive: Chicago Father Faces Jail for Bringing Daughter to Church

Feuding parents test boundaries of religion in family court custody case.

ByABC News
February 26, 2010, 7:18 AM

Feb. 26, 2010— -- Three-year-old Ela Reyes is caught in the middle of her feuding parents' divorce battle -- a private child custody fight that has erupted in a public firestorm over religion and the boundaries of faith and the law.

Joseph Reyes faces jail time for taking daughter, Ela, to a Catholic church in defiance of a temporary court order forbidding him from exposing the child to any religion but Judaism.

His estranged wife, Rebecca Reyes spoke exclusively to ABC News' Chris Cuomo about why she asked for the order and the jail time, in a case that is making national headlines.

When Joseph Reyes and Rebecca Shapiro first met while boxing at a Chicago gym, they knocked each other out. "There was a happiness about her ... a glow," Joseph said.

"I thought he was fantastic from the moment I met him," said Rebecca. "I loved how he challenged me intellectually. I thought he was great."

CLICK HERE to read the full transcript of Chris Cuomo's exclusive interview with Rebecca Reyes

Sparring turned to dating, and the two got closer. Rebecca, an up-and-coming lawyer, fell hard and fast for Joseph, an Army intelligence specialist preparing to leave for Afghanistan on a secret mission he couldn't share with Rebecca.

But the one thing he could tell her before shipping off to war was all she needed to know: He wanted to marry her. He popped the question, she said yes, and that gave him "something to make my way back to the states for," he told Cuomo.

When Joseph returned from Afghanistan six months later, the couple planned their dream wedding, a dream Jewish wedding, as it turned out.

Joseph was raised Catholic; Rebecca grew up Jewish. Although both said they were open-minded about religion, Rebecca's overbearing parents did not accept their daughter marrying a non-Jew, according to Joseph. Rebecca denied that, and said that she was OK with his religion as long as he agreed to build a Jewish home.

Their wedding in the fall of 2004 was a traditional Jewish affair. They signed a ketubah, a Hebrew marriage contract, and held the wedding ceremony under a huppa, a ceremonial canopy that symbolizes the creation of a Jewish household.

They broke a glass to thunderous applause and joyously danced the hora according to Jewish custom. "I had that death-defying moment where I thought they were gonna catapult me from the chair ... and I thought 'this is going to be tragic. ... But it was a perfect day," Rebecca happily recounted.

Joseph agreed: "Being back with Rebecca and actually getting to build a life together was great," he told Cuomo.