Thursday, October 29, 2009

Links and sample letters on Rifqa

There follow a few useful links concerning Rifqa Bary at Atlas Shrugged. I apologize for the format, etc., at Atlas. I find that the page takes a long time to load, and Pamela Geller is not always, shall we say, sensitive in her use of pictures. She also doesn't seem to know how to use the "click here for more" function for posts, and she tends to run too much information together in one post, which makes it hard to sort out visually and makes it look hysterical and less credible than it actually is. But she is in actuality the go-to source on Rifqa's case, the one person who is following the case scrupulously and collecting information all the way along, often doing on-the-ground interviewing and original, exclusive, investigation (such as finding Rifqa's father's immigration documents), and if Rifqa's lawyer and guardian ad litem in Florida had paid attention to Pamela's information and advice more, Rifqa might still be safe(er) in Florida. They really dropped the ball.

So, first, here is an early report of Rifqa's being cut off from phone and Internet. Here is an explanation from Rifqa's friend Jamal Jivanjee of the phony deal Rifqa's parents cut. He also discusses the draconian limits on her communication. How he knows about the deal, I don't know and don't ask, but it at least explains some things. And here is a post containing interesting letters from a family law lawyer from Oregon to the Executive Director of FCCS. Unfortunately, the lawyer is capital-letter-challenged, but he writes good letters other than that--has the legalese down well and knows how similar systems work. (I have some comments in the thread on this 0ne you might want to search for on the page using my name as a search term.)

The e-mail address for Eric Fenner, Executive Director of FCCS, is

edfenner@fccs.co.franklin.oh.us

There is also some sort of civil rights ombudsman who is supposed to have special charge over the rights of "clients"--in other words, the minors in the care of the FCCS. Here is his contact info:

Kenneth Cohen
Client Rights Officer
Franklin Co. Children Services
855 Mound St.
Columbus, Ohio 43223
Phone No. 614-275-2621
E-mail address: cro@fccs.co.franklin.oh.us

Direct e-mail:

kcohen@fccs.co.franklin.oh.us

Here is the letter I wrote to Mr. Fenner (the first guy):

Dear Mr. Fenner:

I am writing to you concerning Rifqa Bary, who is presently in the custody of Franklin County Children’s Services. A news report from the Columbus Dispatch states that you have said you see no reason to believe that Rifqa would not be safe with her parents. This seems an extraordinarily hasty statement and does not seem to reflect an intention to do due diligence on the facts of the case but rather to prejudge it before an investigation has been fully carried out. Your casual comments to the press about this case are consistent with the extraordinarily fast setting of a date for trial on the merits, when Rifqa’s lawyers have just been assigned and are new to the case, and when the case is admittedly complex and difficult. It does not seem that Franklin County is giving this case the careful consideration and prudence that it deserves.

I am writing to urge that Rifqa not be returned to the custody of her parents. In repeated interviews, including interviews with Florida Law Enforcement, Rifqa has described physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her father dating back to her middle school days. She also indicates that her father threatened her in connection with her conversion to Christianity, leading to her decision to run away out of fear of him and the surrounding Muslim community who, she says, were urging him to "deal with" her conversion. She is very frightened of being returned to her parents’ custody, and it is clearly not in her best interests for her to be returned.

A serious problem in connection with Rifqa’s case is the danger that her parents will take her, as a minor, and leave the United States for their native Sri Lanka if she is returned to them. In Sri Lanka, she would not, even when she turns eighteen in nine months, have the rights and freedoms that she would have here in the United States. According to her testimony, her parents expressly threatened to take her back to Sri Lanka to be "dealt with" concerning her apostasy from Islam with methods possibly including institutionalization. This must not be allowed to happen. However, it appears that her parents (and hence Rifqa herself) are now in the United States illegally. This makes it all the more plausible that they would return to Sri Lanka, taking her against her will, if she were returned to them.

Rifqa’s father has stated in an interview with Florida Law Enforcement that he would require her to practice Islam until she turned eighteen. If Rifqa is returned to her father’s custody, she will be under religious coercion as well as being in danger.

Of particular concern is the fact that Ohio Juvenile Magistrate Mary Goodrich, at the request of Atty. Jim Zorn, has restricted Rifqa’s ability to communicate via telephone and Internet, thus causing her to be held incommunicado. This decision seems especially dangerous and outrageous. This is a child in need of protection, and it is impossible to see how her best interests can be served and her safety insured if she is unable to communicate with the outside world. In the United States, one of the ways in which we protect the vulnerable is by making sure that they are not cared for in secret, without the ability to communicate what is happening to them. Moreover, this restriction on Rifqa’s communication has more than a whiff of religious discrimination about it, as it appears that she is particularly being restricted so that she cannot obtain support in her Christian beliefs by being in touch with her Christian friends. I urge that Rifqa’s ability to communicate with others outside her foster situation be restored immediately.

Please be aware that the eyes of the world are watching Rifqa’s treatment at the hands of the Franklin County Children’s Services. It is precisely at your level--at the level of juvenile court magistrates and children’s services workers--that prudence, due diligence, and concern for the best interests of the child enter the equation, so that children are not treated in some mechanical way according to laws insensitive to the specifics of the case. Your department and the judges with whom you work have the authority and hence the responsibility to protect Rifqa, and you will be held responsible for doing so. If she is returned to her parents and deprived of religious freedom, physically harmed, psychologically terrorized, or dragged back to Sri Lanka against her will, the responsibility will belong to the local authorities of Franklin County. Please consider well what you do, and above all, err on the side of protecting this minor child from harm.

Yours sincerely,

*************************************************************************

Here is the only partially overlapping letter I wrote to Mr. Cohen:

Dear Mr. Cohen,

I am writing to you with regard to the case of Rifqa Bary, a 17-year-old minor now in the custody of Franklin County Children’s Services. Although my greatest concern is that Rifqa not be returned to her parents’ custody, given her plausible allegations of past abuse and threats from her parents and the danger of her being taken out of the United States to Sri Lanka against her will, I have already written to Mr. Eric Fenner about the case more generally and intend here to focus on some matters relating directly to civil rights, as I understand that you are the Client Rights Officer in the civil rights area for FCCS.

One issue of great concern is the fact that Juvenile Magistrate Mary Goodrich, at the request of Atty. Jim Zorn, has restricted Rifqa’s ability to communicate via telephone and Internet. The express intent of this restriction, articulated by Atty. Zorn, is to cut Rifqa off from “other people” in the situation--by which he expressly means friends that Rifqa was communicating with via Facebook and via telephone. I ask you to consider the undeniable disparate impact this will have in the area of religion. Rifqa alleges that her parents threatened her because of her conversion to Christianity, and the friends she wishes to communicate outside her foster care situation will undoubtedly be disproportionately Christian friends, offering her spiritual encouragement and comfort. Her parents desired what Atty. Zorn has asked for, because they believe Christians have been a bad influence on Rifqa. By cooperating in the attempt to isolate Rifqa from friends of a particular religion, the State of Ohio raises the possibility that it is engaging in religious discrimination and depriving Rifqa of her rights to free exercise of religion.

It is, moreover, a serious problem to isolate a child in this fashion, particularly a vulnerable child. In the United States, we generally consider that part of the protection for the vulnerable is that they are able to communicate with others and to tell others if they are being mistreated. Parents who isolated their child, particularly a young woman of seventeen, this thoroughly for an indefinite period of time, would be suspected of having something to hide, and worries would be understandably raised that the child might be mistreated and be unable to obtain help. The outside world will find it very difficult to find out if Rifqa is being pressured or treated in any inappropriate way while in foster care if she is held thus virtually incommunicado. This is not in her best interests, and all the less so as she has now been apparently deprived of the right she enjoyed in Florida to select her own lawyer.

I strongly urge that Rifqa’s ability to communicate with friends, including Christian friends, outside her foster care situation be restored immediately in the name of her civil rights.

Next, I want to ask whether Rifqa is being permitted to see regularly a religious adviser of her choice. Even convicted criminals in jail are permitted visits with their clergymen, who are given prison visitation rights. Rifqa--an honors student who has been convicted of no crime and is in a highly stressful situation-- should have at least the minimal religious exercise rights accorded to a convict.

Also in relation to rights of religious free exercise, I wish to point out that Mr. Bary, Rifqa's father, while denying various statements she has made as to past abuse, actually stated to Florida's Department of Law Enforcement that "because she is still under age and living in his home he believed she should continue to study and practice Islam." This makes it clear that if Rifqa is returned to her parents she will be compelled to practice Islam even while here in the United States, unless she should turn eighteen while still here in the United States. She will not turn eighteen for another nine months.

I also want to raise some due process issues. Mr. Eric Fenner has most inappropriately already commented to the Columbus Dispatch that he cannot see any reason why it would not be safe for Rifqa to be returned to her parents. He should not be prejudging this case in this way, when Rifqa has only just now been transferred into FCCS custody. He should do due diligence first, having in mind always the best interests of the child.

Due process is particularly a matter of concern given what I understand to be the quasi-criminal nature of the proceedings, since Rifqa’s parents are attempting to have her declared an “incorrigible child.” A trial on the merits of the case has been scheduled very rapidly, for Nov. 16, despite the fact that Rifqa has just been assigned new lawyers. It seems that her due process rights may well be violated if her lawyers do not have more time to research and prepare their case in this very complicated matter, involving multiple lines of evidence in multiple areas.

I urge you to do everything in your power for the best interests and safety of Rifqa Bary. If, through negligence and failure of due diligence and due process on the part of FCCS and the Ohio courts, she is returned to her parents and dragged out of the country to Sri Lanka, where she will have no civil rights at all, FCCS and the judge(s) involved will be responsible. It is at the level of Children’s Services that the particulars of the case need to be examined and taken carefully into account. I urge you, like everyone involved at FCCS, to err on the side of caution in safeguarding this young woman.

Best wishes,

***************************************************************************

If any of my readers would like supporting information on any of the points in the letters or these two posts--more supporting links, for example--feel free to ask.

If you should feel moved to write your own letter to either of these guys, go for it, and feel free to use the info. I've given here.

Above all, pray for her and especially for the trial on November 16.

3 comments:

William Luse said...

Good letters, Lydia. Hope they make a difference.

alaiyo said...

Lydia, I've posted links to your posts at FB. I also just posted a note there with some links I found today on "honor" killings in the U.S. Nothing like good research, but just enough to let people know the reality of this happening, and not just "over there" somewhere.

I feel almost frantic for Rifqa's safety . . .

Lydia McGrew said...

Beth, feel free to use any of my info. here to write to the Franklin County Children's Services department.

This is really where the rubber meets the road. Children's services and the associated judges have extremely wide-ranging powers. Their is very little in the way of statutory requirement as far as their reuniting a child with the parents if there is credible evidence that it would not be in the child's best interests to be reunited. They are formally required to view reuniting the family as a "goal" or something like that, but as John Jay (the lawyer commenting at Atlas's blog) points out, this would be entirely compatible with Rifqa's not being returned to her parents before she is eighteen. The degree of latitude there can, of course, be abused, but Rifqa's type of situation is _precisely_ the sort of thing for which it was invented: Here you have accusations of threats and endangerment of a minor from the credible minor herself, yet it is plausible that they could not get a conviction in a court of law for assault (the threats) and for the actual physical abuse, which Rifqa indicates occurred some years ago. It would be her word against theirs. But when there cannot be a criminal conviction, family law still permits keeping the child from the parents when a lesser standard is met that the child would be in danger or mistreated if living with the parents. This is especially relevant in the case of someone Rifqa's age--her accusations are more credible, they obviously come from someone who knows what she is saying and has not merely been confused as a very young child might be, she is articulate and gives a coherent account involving multiple lines of evidence, and she is getting to be old enough that she should have _some_ degree of independence from her parents.

All these factors seem to me to make it an open and shut case, legally speaking, and an easy case for the court and FCCS to decide. They could easily protect her well within the scope of the law and their authority. And at this point no one can whine about jurisdiction, since the liberals themselves were the ones who said Ohio should have jurisdiction.

The fear, of course, is that the reason Rifqa's parents and the liberals wanted jurisdiction in that very area in Ohio is because Muslim influence there is very heavy and because those in charge of Rifqa's safety will bend over backwards to prove themselves friendly to the large Muslim community in the area. That's what we have to fear for Rifqa's sake.

A lot depends on how savvy and motivated her lawyers are, but even then, the judge has an enormous amount of power. I do not understand why an application for religious asylum has not been filed on her behalf. Then her lawyers could argue that she should not be returned to her parents, much less leave the country, while the asylum question was pending at the federal level. There may be some legal problem here I'm not aware of, though.

Fenner, to whom I wrote a letter, could do a lot, though ultimately the judge will have the say-so.

We should write letters and then pray. Today is the feast of All Saints. We are united with Rifqa in the Body of Jesus Christ, and we must trust that He will protect her.