Rifqa Bary: A Schaivo-Like Controversy in the Making?

Newsweek has a good article on the Rifqa Bary saga that we’ve been covering here for the last few weeks and it contains a few new nuggets of interesting information, such as the fact that Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel is more than just a “longtime friend,” as the Orlando Sentinel reported, of Blake and Beverly Lorenz, the couple to whom Bary fled in Florida. He is also serving as their lawyer:

Bary’s parents … became frantic when they discovered their daughter was gone. They filed a missing-persons report with Columbus police and reached out to everyone they could think of. Police say the Barys cooperated fully with their investigation and seemed like loving parents who were worried sick. Searching among Rifqa’s personal items, the Barys found a flash drive filled with spiritual writings by [Brian] Williams. He’d already spoken to the family and told them he didn’t know where Rifqa was. But on Aug. 5—more than two weeks after the girl went missing—Columbus police interviewed him by phone (he was now living in Kansas City, Mo.). He says they threatened to arrest him if Bary didn’t appear in the next 24 hours. Immediately after that call, he says, Kansas City police went to his home looking for the girl. Alarmed, Williams says he called and e-mailed all the people he knew Bary had been in touch with, including Blake Lorenz, who’s a Facebook friend of his.

The Lorenzes had been housing Bary the whole time, even though it’s a misdemeanor in Florida to shelter an unmarried minor for more than 24 hours (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement won’t say whether it’s investigating the couple). Their attorney, Mat Staver, says they consulted various agencies and nonprofits regarding how to handle Bary’s situation. They also called the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) several times, though they didn’t provide the specifics of her case until Aug. 6.

The article also contains this other interesting bit of information 

Mohamed and Aysha Bary left Sri Lanka in 2000 with their two kids, Rifqa and an older brother, and moved to New York (their third child, a boy, was born in the United States). The reason: concern about Rifqa’s well-being. As a child, she’d fallen on a toy airplane that pierced her right eye. Doctors in Sri Lanka wanted to remove the eye, prompting Mohamed to relocate the whole family so Rifqa could obtain better medical treatment. In the end, her eye was spared, though she can’t see out of it.

Now, that piece of information is interesting primarily because groups like the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission have been spreading this story:

Rifqa Bary, a petite 17 year old cheerleader, fled from Ohio to Florida to escape her abusive Muslim family. She fled out of fear that she would be killed because she has become a Christian and she has good reasons.

Her father screamed at her that if she had Jesus in her heart, she was dead to him and he would kill her. Prior to that Rifqa had been repeatedly beaten by her family even to the point of losing vision in one eye.

I keep writing about this issue because a) I find it fascinating and b) it has the potential to eventually blow up into an Elian Gonzalez or Terri Schiavo-like story. 

I’m not predicting that it will, mind you, but John Stemberger, who is serving as Bary’s attorney, was intimately involved in the Schiavo battle back in 2005, when he authored  The Terri Schiavo Controversy – Facts, Myths and Christian Perspectives,” which was disseminated by the Family Research Council (see #17, though the document has since been removed from FRC’s website.)

With someone like Stemberger leading the fight and right-wing news outlets and Religious Right groups getting more involved by the day, this story has all of the hallmarks of a full-blown right-wing crusade in the making.