In the past decade, Florida has been the stage for many family legal battles, with several making national news.
In 2000, the deportation of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba from his home in Miami ended a legal dispute, and in 2005 Terri Schiavo was taken off life support by her husband’s request, despite opposition from her parents.
Now, a new controversy focuses on 17-year-old Rifqa Bary. Her Sri Lankan parents moved to Columbus, Ohio so they could provide better education for their three children.
In July, fearing her life was in danger, Bary fled from home to live with a Florida Christian couple she met on Facebook, according to Fox News. Her flight caused a legal family battle and a religious clash between Christians and Muslims.
According to Time magazine, Bary claims she ran away because her Muslim father threatened to kill her after he found out she converted to Christianity. She said this “honor killing” is common in the Muslim faith when women dishonor their family.
According to Newsweek, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, the parents of the 17-year-old, deny the threats and say they just want their daughter to come back home. They’ve stated numerously that they knew of their daughter’s devotion to Jesus three years ago, and although they do not agree with it, they accept it.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement looked into the allegations after receiving a sworn in affidavit from Bary claiming abuse from her parents and a murder threat. A report released Monday said, “Our investigation has provided no clear evidence of criminal activity.”
The right decision is to return Bary back to her parents.
Substantial evidence shows no abuse or any type of harm to the teenager. Testimonies from her high school teachers say the same thing: they had not witnessed or suspected any form of abuse.
Moreover, Bary told investigators that although she was a cheerleader, her father never saw her in uniform because she feared his disapproval. Yet, the report found pictures of the teen in her cheerleading outfit in the Barys’ living room, which raises questions about the authenticity of her story.
The state should look into a potential prosecution of Blake and Beverly Lorenz, the couple who allowed the minor to live with them without informing law enforcement, and order the girl back to her parents.
The Lorenzes, both pastors of the evangelical Global Revolution Church, should be held accountable, as it is considered a misdemeanor in Florida to shelter an unmarried minor for more than 24 hours.
Though there was no substantial evidence of abuse found, it will likely be up to Judge Daniel Dawson to decide the fate of the girl, Newsweek reported. Yet given the controversy surrounding the dispute, it will be difficult to ensure a fair and unbiased trial.
The fact that Bary is a convert from Islam to Christianity prevents many Americans from sympathizing with the family. A 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center estimates that 78.5 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, while a mere 0.6 percent are Muslims.
If the situation were reversed, with a Christian girl converting to Islam under the same circumstances, a judge would not hesitate to return the girl to her parents.
This case should be stalled no longer, because Bary is already 17. In a year she will be free to either live with her parents or on her own.
If the court decides Bary should live in Florida, a family reconciliation may never happen. The court should look at this case, not only from a legal point of view, but from a humanitarian view and make a quick decision.
Xhenis Berberi is a senior majoring in political science and economics.