April 14, 2010
BY LISA DONOVAN Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
A Chicago man who has returned to his Catholic roots may take his 3-year-old daughter to Roman Catholic mass, despite objections from the girl's Jewish mother, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday in a divorce and custody battle that has drawn national attention.
Judge Renee Goldfarb's 30-page order also officially ends the six-year marriage of the little girl's parents: Joseph Reyes, a 35-year-old law school student, and Rebecca Reyes, a Northwestern University Law School admissions officer.
For months now the two have been locked in a battle over the child's religious upbringing. That wick was lit back in November when Joseph Reyes had his daughter baptized at a south suburban Catholic Church and sent his estranged wife photos of the event.
Rebecca Reyes went to court and won a restraining order preventing Joseph Reyes from exposing the girl to any religion other than Judaism. Tuesday's judgment lifts the injunction, though Joseph Reyes is still facing legal action for allegedly defying it.
The couple had a Jewish wedding back in 2004, Joseph converted to Judaism when their daughter was born and, according to Rebecca Reyes' attorneys, Joseph Reyes agreed to raise the girl in the Jewish faith.
But Joseph Reyes told the Sun-Times he converted under pressure from his in-laws and never agreed to raise the girl in the Jewish faith. When the couple split, he returned to the Catholic faith he grew up with and says he wanted to expose his daughter to it.
On Tuesday, attorneys on both sides claimed victory.
"Foremost, I'm elated I get to share an important part of who I am with my daughter," Joseph Reyes told the Sun-Times.
"And I'm elated I get some additional time with Ela," he said, referring to additional visitation days he was granted.
"Those are wonderful things," Reyes said. "With that said, I think there is an unfairness that has remained present under the circumstances. A lot of what is given to me today, is the result of you people -- the media coverage."
His lawyer, Joel Brodsky -- who not only is representing Joseph Reyes, but has made sensational headlines as the defense attorney for Drew Peterson -- said he was satisfied with the larger custody order, which gives his client visitation and hands Rebecca Reyes sole custody with the power to "decide Ela's training and religious upbringing."
Steve Lake, Rebecca Reyes' attorney, said this was "never about religion."
The issue was that he had the child baptized -- without telling the girl's mother or even letting the priest who administered the sacrament know the girl's and mother's religious background.
But according to court papers, Rebecca Reyes worried ''doctrinal differences'' between Catholicism and Judaism might confuse the child if she attended Catholic mass regularly.
Citing case law, Goldfarb wrote in her 30-page order that the court had to determine "whether proof or harm or potential harm to Ela has been affirmatively demonstrated if she is allowed to attend church services with her father during visitation."
Ultimately, she decided "no evidence was presented . . . showing that taking three-year-old Ela to church during Joseph's visitation time is or would be harmful to Ela. She is three years old and, according to Joseph, while at church she waves at the other children, looks around and giggles. This court found that testimony credible."
Bruce A. Boyer, a Loyola University law professor and expert in child welfare law, said that while he -- and the judge -- had concerns about Ela's "surreptitious" baptism, the judge's order strikes a fine balance.
"The idea that you can have a primary custodial parent making the primary religious decisions for the child, but having the other parent expose the child to his religion -- or any religions -- still makes sense to me."
He added: "Growing up in a complicated world is a complicated thing. We're in a world of multi-ethnic, multireligious, multicultural families," Boyer said. "It is the norm in this country."
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