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Judge Orders Parents of Convert Teen to Continue Counseling

A Franklin County Juvenile Judge urged a Central Ohio couple to continue counseling with their teen runaway daughter. The girl converted to Christianity from Islam. But as the family tries to reach a resolution, the girl's attorney suggests time to become a legal immigrant is running out.

17-year-old Rifqa Bary stood outside courtroom 63 at the Franklin County Courthouse. The frail girl wore a lavender sweater and a huge smile while she greeted supporters. One of those was Pieder Beeli, who drove his wife and five children over from Dayton to meet the teen for the first time.

"She needs to be protected by some adults who will stand up and defend the American notion of equality under God," Beeli said.

Bary ran away to Orlando, Florida last July. She said she feared her parents would harm her for converting to Christianity from Islam. Bary's parents, Mohammed and Aysha Bary, deny the allegations.

Initially the girl and her parents agreed to counseling to avoid a trial. But after Bary was allowed to have contact with the couple who housed her in Orlando, the teen's parents asked for a trial.

But Judge Elizabeth Gill denied the parents request.

"Resolution of family matters best starts with agreements between counsel and parties. I believe that's the first step to try to heal a difficult situation," Gill said.

Bary's attorney, Angela Lloyd, told the judge Bary's case is about individual liberties. Lloyd said the teen still fears what could happen to her if she practices Christianity in her parents' home.

"Ms. Bary's perception of that is that it is an ongoing effort by her parents to control her and to renege on commitments they have made to her," Lloyd said.

The parents' attorney, Omar Tarazi, argued the case is about parental rights.

"The parents have that right to try to influence the raising of their child until that child becomes an adult," Tarazi said.

Bary, who is an undocumented immigrant from Sri Lanka, turns 18 August 10. Her attorney suggested a lack of reconciliation could affect her legal status.