An Illinois court is weighing a divorce case in which the parents are at odds with their daughter’s religious upbringing. There is obviously a lack of consensus between the two, and the case raises the question of whether a court can make such a personal decision and essentially determine the child’s religious upbringing.
The case involves Joseph Reyes, an Afghanistan vet and law student, and Rebecca Shapiro. The couple married in 2004 and Reyes converted to Judaism. The couple had a daughter and when they divorced four years later, and Shapiro won primary custody of the couple’s 3 year-old daughter, Ela, with Reyes getting regular visitations.
Shapiro said that the couple had decided to raise the daughter Jewish, while Reyes said that he converted to Judaism under duress and that he now wishes to expose his daughter to his own religion, Catholicism. Reyes had his daughter baptized last November without Shapiro’s knowledge. When she found out, Shapiro reacted by obtaining a temporary restraining order prohibiting Joseph from “exposing Ela Reyes to any other religion other than the Jewish religion during his visitation.”
Reyes decided to fight his battle on camera and took his daughter to a Catholic mass, while being filmed by a television crew. Shapiro’s lawyer requested that Reyes be held in criminal content.
The headlines the case created have predictably oversimplified the case – a father is threatened with jail time for taking his girl to church? But the actual situation is more complicated. Shapiro argued that Ela will get confused by multiple religions, having been raised Jewish. Reyes said that under Illinois law a non custodial parent can attend religious functions if they are not harmful to the child. He also stated that the order violates his religious freedom.
In Newsweek, Dahlia Lithwick pointed out that, “A family-court judge infringes on your right to free speech when he bars you from speaking ill of your ex-husband in front on the kids. She can prevent you from interstate travel if you seek to move your child away from your ex.” The question is whether the court can extend this reasoning to Reyes’ actions of taking his daughter to church.
Does the court have standing to determine which religion Ela should be exposed to? is it a question of personal freedom?
The case is still in the courts, but as is so often the case in divorce, there is little hope of a resolution that satisfies all parties.