Judge Urges Mediation in 'Honor Killing' Custody Case

Teen girl's dad, Mohamed Bary, says Christians coaching daughter.

August 11, 2009, 1:29 PM

Sept. 3, 2009— -- A Florida judge declined today to decide whether a 17-year-old girl should be sent home to her Muslim parents in Ohio or allowed to stay in Florida with a couple of Christian pastors.

Circuit Judge Daniel Dawson instead urged the lawyers, the girl, her parents and the pastors to settle the custody issue in mediation.

In the meantime, Fathima Rifqa Bary was ordered to remain under the jurisdiction of Florida's Department of Children and Families.

The teenager, who goes by the name of Rifqa, has told Florida authorities that she fled her home in July because she had secretly converted to Christianity and that her father was bound by his Muslim faith kill her for leaving Islam.

"They have to kill me because I'm a Christian. It's an honor [killing]," she tearfully toldABC Orlando affiliate WFTV last month.

She was discovered living with Christian pastor, Blake Lorenz, and his wife, Beverly, who Rifqa said she met online.

Dawson sealed a report about the girl today, just hours before the hearing. The report on Rifqa Bary was carried out by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Also before today's hearing, Rifqa's father spoke out for the first time on national television to "Good Morning America," saying his daughter's claims are completely "not true" and that she is being manipulated by people in the Christian community.

"I don't believe my daughter would say this," Rifqa's father, Mohamed Bary, told "GMA." "She's completely being coached -- I mean trained, influenced by these people. It's so sad."

The Barys blame the girl's actions on the Lorenzes and believe the Lorenzes coaxed her into claiming the honor killing, though they admit they would prefer if their daughter was Muslim.

"She is free to practice whatever she believes in," Mohamed Rifqa said. "No problem. She can practice in my house. I have no problem.

"We love her. It's our daughter. She being a Christian doesn't mean she's not my daughter," he said.

An attorney for the Lorenzes had no comment on allegations that they're coaching the 17-year-old.

The teen and her lawyer raised the stakes for the hearing in documents filed this week, accusing her family of physical and sexual abuse and claiming that they are involved with an Islamic extremist organization.

John Stemberger, Bary's lawyer, told ABCNews.com the teen was sexually and physically abused by her relatives.

Rifqa "was sexually abused by her uncle and the mother was aware and never reported it," Stemberger said. "There was physical abuse by the father. He smacked her with great force, enough to slam her across the room.

"One time he asked her to wear the Islamic headdress, and she basically scooted down in the car so she couldn't be seen because she was embarrassed by it and he punched her with full force using his fist across the side of her face," Stemberger said.

Craig McCarthy, the lawyer representing Bary's parents, Mohamed and Aysha, did not return phone calls from ABC News seeking comment, but the parents have denied ever mistreating or threatening Bary.

The documents filed Monday also claim that the Noor Center, the mosque where Bary's parents are "devoted members and followers," has ties to terrorist groups.

The documents describe the Noor Center as "one of the primary sources of Islamic extremism in central Ohio."

Rifqa Bary Custody Questions

Hany Saqr, the center's leader, has disputed Stemberger's charges, and there are no known law enforcement investigations of the center.

FBI officials told ABC News that none of the Noor Center's leaders have been charged with crimes related to terrorism.

The accusations add another layer to the complex custody issues surrounding where Bary should live. The case has drawn law enforcement, family services and politicians from Ohio and Florida into a debate over religion and family.

Florida's Republican Gov. Charlie Crist said in a statement he was grateful the teen has been allowed to stay in Florida, and his administration "will continue to fight to protect Rifqa's safety and well-being as we move forward."

Advocacy groups from across the nation have written letters to Judge Daniel Dawson regarding the custody decision, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has conducted an investigation into whether Bary would be in danger if she returns to her family in Ohio.

They will present their findings to Dawson, who will decide where the religious convert will live.

Bary, who was born in Sri Lanka and came to the United States in 2000, secretly converted to Christianity at a Columbus, Ohio, church in 2005 and prayed in secret, she said, hiding her religion for fear of her parents' retribution, and connected online with other Christians.

In an affidavit submitted before the custody hearing scheduled for today, Bary said her father confronted her in June after word of her religious conversion began to spread. Bary wrote that in July, her father said, "If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me! You are no longer my daughter."

Bary said she feared her parents would be forced to kill her for leaving Islam, and that is why she ran away, taking a bus to Orlando, where she lived with the husband and wife pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz, who she met through a Facebook prayer group for the couple's non-denominational Global Revolution Church.

"It's an honor [killing]. If they love God more than me, they have to do this. And I'm fighting for my life," Bary WFTV.

Rifqa Bary's 'Honor Killing' Claim

In an earlier interview on "Good Morning America," McCarthy disputed that, saying, "Neither Mr. or Mrs. Bary have ever threatened the life of their daughter, and patiently await their daughter's safe return."

But Bary's lawyer told ABCNews.com that the girl is in danger.

"There is a clear and present threat to Rifqa Bary's life if she is returned to Ohio," he said.

In a statement released last month, her parents blamed their daughter's claims on the influence of the pastors who took her in.

"To anyone's knowledge, Rifqa never told anyone that she was frightened while living with her parents in Ohio. Those words only came out of her mouth after being missing for two-and-a-half weeks and surfacing in the tight embrace of Mr. Lorenz, who had not promptly reported that the runaway had been in his home," the parents' statement read.

The girl stayed with the pastors in their Orlando home for two weeks before authorities were notified of her whereabouts.

Columbus police have questioned the validity of Bary's "honor killing" claims.

Mohamed Bary "comes across to me as a loving, caring, worried father about the whereabouts and the health of his daughter," Sgt. Jerry Cupp, chief of the Columbus police missing persons bureau. told The Associated Press.

Bary's mother and father, who traveled to Florida last month to fight for their daughter's return, are expected to ask Dawson to send their daughter to Ohio.