TRANSCRIPT: Joseph Reyes on Being Barred From Taking Child to Church

Father faces jail time for violating court order and taking child to church.

ByABC News
February 15, 2010, 7:00 PM

Feb. 16, 2010 — -- 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.

Click here to read ABC News' full report on "GMA."

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.

On Daughter, Estranged Wife and Converting to Judaism

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?

REYES: Certainly.

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.