Father faces jail for taking daughter to mass

Father faces jail - for taking his daughter to mass against court order

By Paul Berger, March 11, 2010

A father faces up to six months in jail for taking his three-year-old Jewish daughter to mass at a Chicago cathedral.

Joseph Reyes, 35, invited a TV crew to watch as he violated a court order barring him from exposing his daughter, Ela, to any religion other than Judaism.

The order was the result of a bitter dispute between Mr Reyes and his soon-to-be former wife Rebecca that has been simmering for almost two years.

Mr Reyes, who has enlisted the services of a PR firm and a high-profile lawyer, says he had no choice but to turn to the media.

"It really bothers me that this was where I was pushed to," said Mr Reyes, a former soldier. "But I didn't have a whole lot of options open to me. Calling in the media only speaks of my desperation."

I thought we were pretty tolerant of each other’s religious beliefs

Joseph Reyes

Joseph Reyes married Rebecca Shapiro in 2004. About six months after his daughter, Ela, was born, he converted to Judaism in a Reform synagogue, Temple Shalom.

The couple began divorce proceedings in 2008. Mrs Reyes was given primary custody of Ela and Mr Reyes was given frequent visitation rights.In November, he had Ela baptised and sent a photograph of the ceremony to his wife. He claims that he had no idea the photograph would antagonise her.

"I thought we were pretty tolerant of each other's religious beliefs," said Mr Reyes. "Getting Ela baptised was not done with any malicious intent. It [sending the photo] was done to include Rebecca in the day."

Following the incident, a judge imposed a court order barring Mr Reyes from exposing his daughter to religions other than Judaism for 30 days. In protest, he called the local TV news and made his high-profile stand on the steps of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral.

"With all of the injustice done to me during these proceedings, at some point there was a straw that broke the camel's back," he said. "At some point it had got so ridiculously out of whack that I needed to draw some kind of attention to me."

He is now awaiting trial for violating the court order, which carries a maximum six months in jail.

Mr Reyes said he is fighting the order on the grounds that it should never have been imposed in the first place.

"This egregious order is only a symptom of the epidemic in family courts today in this country," he said. "There is a pandemic of injustice being perpetrated against non-custodial parents, mainly fathers, in the United States."

Meanwhile, the judge who imposed the court order, Edward Jordan, has excused himself from the case because he is the former head of a Jewish bar association.

As for Ela, Mr Reyes said: "She's gotten into a place that's a little different than where she has previously been. She will ask 'why can't I stay with you all of the time? Will you always protect me? Can I come back and see you again?' There's this sort of separation anxiety that she's starting to experience."

Mrs Reyes's lawyers did not return calls or emails for comment.

Last updated: 3:39pm, March 11 2010