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Posted in: Feminism, Gender, Psychology & Law

Published on Aug 05, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Lord God, Free At Last: Rifqa Bary's Victory in Ohio


Christmas arrived early this year for this brave, young ex-Muslim convert to Christianity. Judge Mary Goodrich in Columbus, Ohio has just decided that Rifqa, who will turn eighteen in five days, does not have to return to her family (all of whom are here illegally from Sri Lanka). According to breaking local news,

"Goodrich also said it's not in the girl's best interest to return her to her native Sri Lanka. Bary is (also) an illegal immigrant. The ruling allows her attorneys to file for a special immigration status to allow her to stay in the U.S. while she continues medical treatment following recent surgery for uterine cancer."

Allow me to congratulate her hard-working, dedicated, and skillful lawyers: Angela Lloyd and Kort Gatterdam. But most of all, allow me to congratulate Rifqa herself for her extraodinary strength and courage.

Without going into details, allow me to note that this decision is a triumph of committed pro bono lawyering. Rifqa is both young and poor; nevertheless, she found a legal team able and willing to represent her for no money–indeed, to go up against a legal team funded (and/or morally supported) by CAIR, the Council for American Islamic Relations.

For those who insist that there is no justice in America: What do you think Rifqa's fate might have been in a Muslim country or even in Sri Lanka, where Muslims comprise a minority of the population? While justice is far, far from perfect in America, here is one, shining example, one brilliant moment, in which justice has triumphed. At the midnight hour, Magistrate Goodrich rendered a just decision.

For those who claim that Americans are racists, that they dislike both dark-skinned people and illegal aliens–please note that Rifqa Bary is beautifully dark-skinned and was brought here, illegally, as a child, by her family. She arrived here as an undocumented Muslim. Nevertheless, lawyers in both Florida and Ohio stepped forward to protect and defend her. The system-we-love-to-hate appointed these lawyers. No angry grassroots group, no Christian activist association did what the American state did: Actually pay for it all.

Rifqa, like our earliest founding ancestors, will now be able to freely practice her chosen religion. She converted from Islam to Christianity. This is a capital crime among Muslims and could lead to her death, either at the hands of her own family or at the hands of any "righteous" Muslim. Rifqa's lawyers have defended her right to convert to Christianity without having to die for her choice.

Thus, this case shows America at its best: A system that is capable of non-racism, a system that bears no hatred towards foreign aliens. This case is about legally rescuing a juvenile from serious harm at home and also honoring a very young girl's right, no matter what her skin-color or immigration status might be–to practice the religion of her choice.

We will soon all find out what what will happen vis a vis Rifqa's immigration status.

We hope and pray that Rifqa will also triumph over her cancer. And, by the way: She has been mercifully cared for, pro bono, by American physicians. Imagine what her fate might have been had she lived elsewhere, anywhere, in the developing world.

Yes, I know, America is imperfect, has made mistakes, that its citizens, like citizens everywhere are also corrupt and greedy (just read our latest headlines about our politicians). More: Most Innocence Projects, righteous as they may be, tend to concern (innocent) male, not (innocent) female prisoners who usually never see the light of day again.

The fight for Rifqa Bary's life, freedom, and right to practice the religion of her choice is a fight for a vulnerable, teenaged girl who is also an undocumented "foreigner" of color.

According to the latest local coverage, as a juvenile, Rifqa has the right to apply for a visa which will entitle her to some public benefits, a social security card, a driver's license and which might subsequently lead to a green card. By the time you read this column, I hope that the wheels of justice have continued to turn so that Rifqa will soon be on a fast track to American citizenship. This green card will also entitle Rifqa to certain benefits.

God Bless America!


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