Judge Urges Teen Convert, Muslim Parents to Reconcile

The Ohio judge overseeing the case of Rifqa Bary, the teen who ran away from her Muslim parents citing fear that she would be harmed for converting to Christianity, has urged the broken family to continue counseling with the aim of reconciliation.

During a court hearing Tuesday, Franklin County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Gill rejected Mohamed and Aysha Bary's request to cancel a reconciliation plan developed in January, which includes counseling.

The plan was created by the county child welfare agency, which has custody of Rifqa. The parents are upset that the agency has allowed their daughter to contact the Florida pastor who sheltered her after she ran away to Orlando. The parents believe her contact with Pastor Blake and Beverly Lorenz would hurt their chances of reconciliation.

But Gill, though acknowledging the Barys' concern, denied their request.

"The only individuals that are going to be able to repair it are the three of you, with professional help," Gill said.

Rifqa ran away from her Ohio home last July saying that she feared her Muslim father would kill her for converting to Christianity. She boarded a bus and headed to Orlando, where she was taken in by the Lorenzes for two weeks until Florida authorities put her under state custody.

After a bitter court battle in Florida, Rifqa's case was turned over to Ohio.

Since her return to Ohio in October, the 17-year-old girl has stayed at a foster home under the custody of the Franklin County Children's Services.

Throughout the custody case, Mohamed Bary has denied ever threatening to harm his daughter for converting to Christianity. Bary has said that though he prefers his daughter to be a Muslim, he would allow her to practice Christianity if she returns home.

This August, Rifqa will turn 18 years old, the age when she can legally live independently from her parents. But her attorney has confirmed that Rifqa is in danger of losing her legal status when she turns 18 and could be returned to her native country of Sri Lanka.

Her attorney, Angela Lloyd, requests that the judge allow the teen to seek permanent residency despite her family problems not being resolved. Her legal status is based on her dependency status, which means if she cannot reconcile with her parents by her birthday then she will be an illegal resident.

It is unclear what her parents' legal status is, but Lloyd has said they are "pursuing their own immigration relief."