No Charges for Pastors Who Aided Runaway Teen Convert

Six adults, including three pastors, who helped Christian convert Rifqa Bary as a minor run away from her family's Ohio home will not be criminally charged. Prosecutors in Ohio and Florida decided not to file charges against the six for helping Bary leave her Muslim household in Columbus for sanctuary in Orlando, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Police had recommended charging the adults for aiding the underage teen runaway.

Franklin County (Ohio) prosecutor Ron O’Brien said his decision was due to “a combination of things,” including the difficulty of re-interviewing some of the adults involved, the AP reported. Florida prosecutor Lawson Lamar had already closed his case months ago.

In addition to the three pastors—Blake and Beverly Lorenz of Orlando and Brian Williams of Kansas City, Mo.—a  Bary family friend in Columbus and two members of the Lorenzes' church were under investigation.

In 2009, the case of Rifqa Bary gained national attention and escalated Muslim-Christian tension in the U.S. by putting a face to the Islamic practice of honor killing. Bary, who was then 16 years old, ran away from her Muslim family alleging her life was in danger for converting to Christianity.

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Christians rallied in support of Bary on Facebook and at courthouses during her custody hearings. Even Florida state lawmakers had spoken in defense of Bary. The convert to Christianity, who was often seen reading the Bible during the hearings, was helped by a number of adults who provided shelter, transportation and a plan that allowed Bary to board a Greyhound bus to Florida.

In Florida, she was housed by the Lorenzes, pastors of Global Revolution Church in Orlando. Bary had reached out to Beverly Lorenz on Facebook just days before boarding the bus and had asked for help, saying she was afraid of being killed for converting from Islam to Christianity.

After about two weeks at the Lorenz home, Bary was discovered and was taken into Florida state custody. After a long and high-profile custody battle in Florida, the teen girl was moved to Ohio and stayed with a foster family to undergo court-ordered reconciliation sessions with her family.

Bary’s parents throughout the ordeal have vehemently denied that they would harm their daughter for leaving the faith.

Last August, Bary turned 18 and was released from the reconciliation process with her family. About a month after her 18th birthday, she also gained permanent residency in the United States on her own. Bary is originally from Sri Lanka and many believed her life would be at risk should she be deported.

As for why prosecutors did not file charges against the six adults who helped Bary run away, “They [prosecutors] would have a very difficult time with any of those charges, given that Rifqa would say she was in fear of her life, and so they acted in what they thought was her best interests,” Kort Gatterdam, a Columbus attorney who represented Bary in juvenile custody hearings, told the AP.

Bary remains estranged from her parents and two brothers and now lives separately in another state. —The Christian Post

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