OH Gov: Send Rifqa Back

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has issued a statement calling for Rifqa Bary to be returned to Ohio; a move which raises the stakes in this battle because Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has already said that Bary has the “right to remain in Florida”:

The office of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has issued a statement, saying the teenage girl who ran away from her Muslim home in Columbus, Ohio, to evangelical Christians in Orlando, should be returned.

“Child welfare agencies and authorities in Ohio and Franklin County are fully capable of providing for the security and well-being of Ohio’s children,” said the statement. “The governor believes this is a family matter and therefore would most appropriately be handled here in Ohio with the assistance of the child welfare and foster care system.”

Fathima Rifqa Bary, 17, is currently living with a foster family in the Orlando area. She fled Columbus aboard a Greyhound bus in July, saying her father had threatened to kill her because she had abandoned his faith — Islam — and become a Christian.

Her father, Mohamed Bary, a jeweler and Amway distributor, says that never happened. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation supports his claim. So does Franklin County Children’s Services, the child welfare agency serving Columbus.

Strickland’s statement, first issued to reporters yesterday, puts him at odds with Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist.

Three weeks ago, Crist issued a statement, saying he was grateful for a decision by Orange Circuit Judge Daniel Dawson to keep Rifqa in Florida.

Earlier that day, Crist had sent two powerful figures – Rob Wheeler, his top lawyer; and George Sheldon, secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families — to a hearing at which the judge ruled that Rifqa should stay in Florida, at least temporarily.

“We’ll continue to fight to protect Rifqa’s safety and wellbeing as we move forward,” said Crist in his statement.

Rifqa’s story has set off a firestorm of reaction, especially among evangelical Christians. Crist’s office today reported that it had received more than 10,000 pieces of e-mail about it.