The Florida pastor who sheltered runaway teen convert Rifqa Bary formally denied Tuesday that he knowingly broke the law to hide the Muslim-turned-Christian girl from Ohio.
Pastor Blake Lorenz of Global Revolution Church in Orlando, in a sworn statement filed with the juvenile court in Franklin County, Ohio, where Rifqa’s family lives, said the allegations made by former church employee Brian Smith are false.
Smith, who had worked as an administrator at Global Revolution, filed a sworn statement last week with an Ohio court that accused Lorenz of refusing to call the Florida Department of Children and Families even though legal experts had informed him to report that Rifqa was living in his home.
“My lawyer explained to me that they were in violation of several laws and to immediately hang up, call Blake and tell him to call DCF immediately," Smith said in his statement. "She quoted several laws to me and the seriousness of them.
"I called Blake and informed him of what the lawyer said,” Smith continued. “I implored him to call DCF immediately. He said he wouldn't because they would just return her to her parents."
In response to the allegation, Lorenz said he called DCF multiple times on July 29 as well as to the Florida children’s services hot line and the Ohio police in August, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Lorenz also said a police officer had told him he was aware that Rifqa’s life was in danger.
Fathima Rifqa Bary, 17, ran away from her home in mid-July saying that she feared her Muslim father would kill her for converting to Christianity. Rifqa’s parents have denied her claim and said that she can practice Christianity freely if she returns to their home.
Before Rifqa boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Orlando in July, she had called the Lorenzes, whom she met in a Facebook prayer group, and asked them for help. The Lorenzes said they did not instruct Rifqa to board the bus or buy her ticket, but only allowed her to stay at their home for two weeks before Florida authorities ordered them to turn Rifqa over to state custody.
Smith in his affidavit, however, accused Lorenz of buying a bus ticket for Rifqa and using church money to pay for some of the runaway teen’s needs, such as a bed and a cell phone.
Attorney Mat Staver, who represents Lorenz, in response, has described Smith as a “disgruntled” former employee. Smith rejects the description and said his statement is true.
During the height of the Rifqa Bary case this summer, media from around the world carried the story and portrayed it as a religious struggle between Islam and Christianity that involved honor killing and religious freedom. Several Florida politicians even became involved in the case and voiced concern for Rifqa’s safety, with some even publically advocating for her to stay in Florida instead of being returned to Ohio, where they feared her life would be in danger. Only a few commentators contended that Rifqa’s case was overblown and it was more of a family dispute than a religious freedom case.
In October, the Orlando judge that oversaw the case ruled that Rifqa should be returned to Ohio and undergo mediation with her family. And last week, an Ohio judge ruled that Rifqa does not need to meet her parents as part of a possible reconciliation plan. The judge ruled against Mohamed and Aysha Bary’s request to force Rifqa to participate in mediation.
Since moving back to Ohio, Rifqa has refused to meet her parents and brothers, saying that she has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the months of legal and personal drama and is not ready for mediation with her family. She is working with a counselor to determine if she really has PTSD.
The 17-year-old girl is presently staying with a foster family in Ohio and has indicated that she wants to stay in foster care until she turns 18.
Meanwhile in Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it has completed investigation into the Lorenzes’ role in Rifqa’s case, but has yet to come to a decision on whether they will be charged with any wrongdoing.