Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Fathima Rifqa Bary at age 17 (Facebook photo)
Rifqa Bary, the teenager who ran away to Florida claiming her Muslim parents in Ohio had threatened to kill her for converting to Christianity, has released her first public statement since turning 18 and being released from protective foster care.
Only rather than defending herself in the statement, Bary is defending her lawyer, John Stemberger, who is now facing a $10-million defamation lawsuit filed by her parents’ attorney.
The lawsuit stems from comments Stemberger made on the Fox News Channel, when he asserted Bary’s parents had fired “qualified” attorneys and hired Muslim lawyers instead “with ties to [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] and the Islamic mosque” and who were “funded by a third party.”
Stemberger’s legal defense fund claims the lawsuit, brought by Muslim lawyer Omar Tarazi, who opposed Rifqa Bary in the Ohio case, is an act of retaliation.
“Tarazi, who lost his client’s case and is disgruntled,” the defense fund’s website claims, “is now using this frivolous lawsuit and meritless grievance charge as a means of ‘lawfare’ to try and punish John.”
“I am also very upset that Attorney Omar Tarazi, the lawyer who opposed me in the Ohio case, is now trying to get those closest to me, including Attorney Stemberger, in trouble,” Bary affirms. “Omar Tarazi both conducted himself unprofessionally and harmed my ability to reunify myself with my family in a number of ways.”
For Stemberger, however, Bary’s affidavit speaks nothing but praise:
“His efforts played a major role in my eventual safety, obtaining the dependency status in Ohio and securing my position in this country as a legal permanent resident of the United States,” she states. “I am grateful to this lawyer for his pro-bono legal service to me.”
The courts eventually determined that Bary had to be returned to Ohio, but did not order back into her parents’ custody, instead keeping her in protective foster care, until she was released upon her 18th birthday as a legal adult.
Bary and her parents, natives of Sri Lanka, had been in the country illegally, having overstayed their immigration visa in Columbus, Ohio. As Bary stated, she has since been granted a “green card” to remain in the U.S., while her parents are fighting to remain, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
The Sentinel also reported that Bary had sent her parents letters of love and gratitude, but the young woman’s affidavit explained the court proceedings – and the actions of Tarazi – had made full reconciliation nearly impossible.
The offenses listed in Bary’s affidavit as example’s of Tarazi’s “unprofessional” and harmful actions include the following, in Bary’s words:
Recommending to my parents to file criminal-like charges alleging that I was an “unruly child”;
Filing motions seeking to prohibit me from receiving Christmas cards from my friends and supporters;
Filing motions to require my computer activity to be monitored;
Working with my parents to send my personal diary to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper without my consent or permission, who then turned around and published by inner most personal and private thoughts;
Contrary to federal law and without permission, intercepting, opening and then attaching to a filing in the Ohio Juvenile Court, a private letter sent by me through U.S. mail to my pastor;
Now trying to get my attorney, John Stemberger, in trouble.
Bary first fled her Ohio home in 2009 and was then diagnosed with uterine cancer in May of last year. She has had three operations and a limited amount of chemotherapy, the Sentinel reports, and is now cancer-free.
Though Bary’s current location is not widely publicized, Stemberger told the Sentinel said she will likely pursue becoming a Christian missionary to China.
“She wants to preach the gospel to the nations. That’s what she says all the time,” he said.