Joseph Reyes, an Afghanistan war veteran and second-year law student, converted to Judaism when he married Rebecca Shapiro in 2004. When they split up in 2008, Rebecca won primary custody of their daughter, and Joseph got regular visitation. The couple had allegedly agreed to raise their child Jewish, but Joseph, seeking to expose his 3-year-old to his Catholic faith, had her baptized last November. When she learned that her daughter had been baptized without her consent, Rebecca obtained a temporary restraining order in December 2009, forbidding Joseph from “exposing Ela Reyes to another religion other than the Jewish religion during his visitation.” In January of this year, Reyes again took Ela to Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, with a local TV news crew in tow. His ex-wife’s lawyers demanded he be held in criminal contempt—with a maximum punishment of six months in prison.
As Joseph Gitlin, a prominent Chicago family lawyer points out, in Illinois, the custodial parent is permitted, by statute, to “determine the child’s upbringing, including, but not limited to, his education, healthcare, and religious training.” That necessarily means the other parent will be carved out of decisions—even constitutionally protected parenting decisions—if it’s not in the child’s best interest. The tricky question in the Reyes case—the one the courts do not want to touch—is whether religion is a zero-sum proposition or a cultural buffet table.
Can a court really tell a parent what religion his child will be? And can a judge possibly back up such an order with the threat of jail time?