CHICAGO – In yet another case of the courts being asked to determine a child’s religious upbringing, a father petitioned a Cook County, Ill., judge on Tuesday to permit the baptism of his 3-year-old son in the Roman Catholic Church.

Victor Sarmiento, 30, wants to baptize his son before custody is determined in the divorce proceeding between him and his estranged wife, Lizette Perez.

According to court documents, Perez objects to the baptism because she was raised Pentecostal. Pentecostal Christians traditionally don’t ask children to make a profession of faith until they are old enough to understand its significance.

The wife’s lawyer, Carmen Quinones, said in an interview that custody must be determined before a decision can be made. Sarmiento’s lawyer, Jeffery Leving, and his colleagues contend the divorce has dragged on for two years and their client shouldn’t have to wait.

“The child has attended Mass with the father,” Leving said. “If the mother really truly was offended with the Catholic faith and truly offended with the child being baptized, in my opinion she never would have consented to the child being allowed to attend Mass. The basis of this interfaith dispute is the mother is angry, and she could very well be using the child as a tool to express her anger.”

Quinones and Leving said the case is one of a growing number of custody disputes that involve religious conflict.

Leving also represents a Greek Orthodox father whose ex-wife wants to amend their custody agreement to raise their 9-year-old son Jewish. In addition, he represents a father who now wants to raise his daughter Lutheran, the faith of his new wife.

Though Leving said he is Sarmiento’s third lawyer and the only one willing to take up the baptism issue, he doesn’t believe interfaith disputes belong in the courtroom. In collaboration with another lawyer and a psychotherapist, he has launched an initiative to support families locked in interfaith custody battles.


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