Monday, February 22, 2010

Get Out of My Court Room!

In November 2009, Joseph Reyes, the defiant ex-husband of Rebecca Reyes, baptized their three-year-old daughter into the Catholic Church without the mother's knowledge. During the beginning period of their marriage, Rebecca argues that Joseph promised to raise their daughter in the Jewish faith. Upon finding out that the daughter had been baptized in the Catholic Church, Rebecca decided to take the insubordinate father to court. On February 16, 2010, the Chicago Tribune published this article "Divorcing Couple War Over Child's Religion" in which explains the proceedings of the above story.
Surprisingly once the case ended up in the courts Judge Edward Jordan, of the Cook County Circuit Court, made the decsion to temporarily restrain Joseph from allowing the child to attend any religious services other than those of the Jewish faith. Joseph Reyes, who is attending John Marshall Law School, with cameras and a television news crew, defied the orders and took his child to a Catholic Mass.
With contempt allegations now on the table, Joseph Reyes acquired Joel Brodsky, of the Drew Peterson case, who than argued that "every parent has a right to take their child to their place of worship as long as it is not a harm to the child." Rebecca Reyes' side argued that since the child attends a Jewish pre-school, she would "suffer confusion to her emotional detriment" with the simultaneous attendance in the Catholic and Jewish faith. Her lawyers argued that Joseph's actions were "malicious" and in retaliation to the divorce, specifically since he had previously promised to raise their daughter Jewish even after he himself was converted to Judaism.
In 1776, there was a movement in Virginia for the General Assessment Bill in which would allow tax money to support teachers of the Protestant Church. It was through this battle and others like it in which Madison's and Jefferson's arguments lead to the wording of the First Amendment as it is today. Court case after court case has referred to their words in their deliberations. In fact, the term "wall of separation" quoted from Jefferson was first used in jurisprudence of the Reynolds v. United States case, which was concerned with the Mormons and polygamy. This case can be seen as one of the first cases in which the courts entered the discussion of what the First Amendment means, from which the courts acknowledged the "wall of separation" except for in those matters which could be harmful to society as a whole, in the case of polygamy.
Reynolds v. United States I feel could be used as an example for the situation of the Reyes couple. What I mean by this is as was deliberated in the Reynolds v. United States case concerning religious rights, two questions come to mind. First, does allowing the three-year-old girl to attend Catholic services with her father cause harm to society? I think the easy answer to that question is it does not. Secondly, is there harm being caused to the daughter? I grant that one could argue for psychological harm, however, as some in the case have stated, like Carlton Marcyan, a divorce specialist, "a three-year-old is not going to know whether she is at a Catholic Church or a synagogue." I also grant that this could be argued; however, the psychological capacity of a three-year-old is very limited. From this I would argue that harm in this specific situation is not a valid argument.
With that said, this leads me into my main point, which is the wall of separation in which Jefferson and Madison were so concerned with. As parents, each have the right to take their child to the place of worship of their choice. Madison argues this is a natural right and can only be dictated by one's own conscience. Thus, despite promises made, both Rebecca and Joseph have the natural right under the above premise to teach their daughter religiously as they see fit, which from the courts deliberations would mean that Judge Edward Jordan decision to bar Joseph from taking his daughter to Mass was not Constitutional. To me, I am actually surprised such a case was even entertained. I grant I am not a lawyer or a judge, but if I were I personally would have never even allowed the case to enter the courts in the first place.


Shannon H. said...

I agree that the courts should not have become involved. I feel that every parent has the right to raise their child in their own faith tradition, and though this obviously is much easier when both parents share the same faith, two differing faiths do not necessarily need to be incompatible. The girl should be able to decide what religious tradition, if any, she wants to follow when she is old enough to make an informed decision, but in the meanwhile both parents should be able to expose her to their faiths. There is no reason the court should have become involved; the girl is not being directly or indirectly harmed by being exposed to more than one religion.

Jessica B said...

Although I feel bad for Rebecca that her husband went behind her back and baptized their child after making an oral agreement to raise her Jewish, it was only an oral agreement. I must agree that this is not a matter of the court because both parents have equal rights to, when the child is in their custody, escort her to which ever religious services they want. I would think the confusion of attending two religious faiths will not cross the girl’s mind until she is older and it becomes of her conscious to decide her religious affiliation. Since the divorce is still underway, I would say it was a mutual parental decision to send the girl to Jewish pre-school. The father should not have agreed to do so if he was not comfortable with converting her daughter, but going back on his word is only unfair not unconstitutional. This is an unfortunate situation but at least Rebecca can hold on to the fact that, in the Jewish faith, if you have a Jewish mother you are considered Jewish. Rebecca’s daughter and grandchildren (unless converted) will always be considered Jewish by the state of Israel.

Rob K said...

I agree with the two above comments that while this is an unfortunate situation for all involved, it does not lend itself to legal action at this point in time. I could not find in any of the posts or in the original article what the Cook County Circuit Court Judge used to justify his ruling that barred Joseph Reyes from allowing the child to attend any further religious services other than of the Jewish faith. If there is an ongoing dispute about how the girl will be religiously raised, wouldn't it be more appropriate or even necessary to restrain her from attending any services at all? Regardless of the fact that it was only one faith's services instead of both, either situation should be considered excessive government entanglement and as breaching the separation between church and state.