Rifqa Bary, Religious Freedom, and Bullying

Rifqa Bary, the teenage Muslim-to-Christian covert who made international news in 2009 after fleeing her parents and the radical Islamic community in Columbus, Ohio when threatened with an honor/apostate killing for her conversion, is alive and well living in safety and in religious freedom because a few friends and other people used their resources and expertise to protect her. 

Her recent deposition, which was taken telephonically from an undisclosed location for security reasons, cleared her Florida attorney John Stemberger of allegations made by an Ohio attorney who represents Bary's parents.  Stemberger represented Rifqa Bary in the Orlando dependency case before the jurisdiction of the case was transferred to Ohio where Rifqa's legal team won her case on August 10, 2010, securing her dependency status away from her parents and eventually obtaining her immigration standing as a permanent U.S. legal resident with a track to become a citizen in four years. The Florida Bar's dismissal of Stemberger's case came exactly one week after Rifqa Bary's deposition.  At the end of the deposition, she gave a passionate plea that the action being taken against Stemberger was a "grave injustice" and that he was responsible for helping to save her life. Rifqa Bary said, "I believe the bringing of this case was a great injustice because I would not be here without the aid of this man's counsel in my court hearing."   See the entire story here

John Stemberger has written on "lawfare"-- the use of law and legal processes as a weapon to squelch free speech, at http://www.christiannewstoday.com/Christian_News_Report_4833.html .  This pattern is disturbing, and has affected other attorneys.  For example, the state Bar in Kansas has attempted to discipline Attorney General Phill Kline for statements he made in exposing Planned Parenthood and its illegal activities.  Angie Lloyd is a clinical law professor and respected child advocate in Columbus who served as one of Rifqa Bary's lawyers in Ohio.  She also had criminal charges filed against her and an Ohio Bar Grievance.  In a way, this type of treatment of lawyers is a litigious form of bullying. 

Bullying has heralded a lot of attention lately from the White House and the news media, but much of it has focused on special groups of targeted victims.  Those victims have not included children like Rifqa Bary, who was essentially bullied by a hostile religious community; nor have they included adults who speak up for notions that seek to protect the vulnerable, such as Kline, Stemberger, and Lloyd.

Regent Law graduates are making a difference in this arena.  Last week Dale Schowengerdt,  Regent '07, now attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, provided a federal commission with a recommended policy on bullying that focuses more on local and grassroots levels, where the danger of bullying occurs.  On behalf of the Alliance Defense Fund Schowengerdt submitted a model anti-bullying policy to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for recommendation to school boards and other governing bodies. Unlike other policies, the policy drafted by Schowengerdt and other ADF attorneys would protect all students from bullying rather than only a select few and would be implemented by school boards rather than the federal government.

"All students deserve to be protected from bullying, not just certain ones favored by certain political activist groups," said ADF Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt.  "The constitutionally sound policy we are recommending protects all students, is designed for local school boards where it can be effective instead of involving the federal government, and guards student rights protected by the First Amendment."  ADF submitted its recommended policy to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in response to a request for input on peer-to-peer violence and bullying in K-12 government-run schools. The commission is also seeking other public input by e-mail through May 27.  The ADF submission to the commission explains that "while we support stopping violence and bullying in schools, we do not believe that programs to accomplish this laudable end should be imposed by the federal government nor only advance the political interests of certain groups while ignoring the needs of most schoolchildren experiencing bullying. All students deserve to be protected from bullying, which is why we composed a model anti-bullying policy that protects all students instead of just a select few." You may read the entire story at http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/4767.

Religous liberty, or the lack thereof, can become a basis for bullying, or life-threatening peril. Families can and should be the first line of defense for those who are victimized. 

When a family cannot be, however, good lawyers make a tremendous difference.  In Act IV of Scene ii of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Dick the Butcher plots to end liberty, recognizing the key to the demise of freedom when he boldy declares, "First thing we must do... Let's kill all the lawyers."  

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