COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio judge released a runaway Christian teenager from state custody on Tuesday, her 18th birthday, ending an ugly legal battle that failed to reunite her with her Muslim parents.
Rifqa Bary declined to talk after the short hearing at which Magistrate Mary Goodrich of Franklin County Juvenile Court ended the involvement of the county children’s services agency.
Miss Bary, who had argued that she feared harm from her parents because of her religious conversion, planned to celebrate her birthday privately with friends, her lawyers said.
“She looks forward to preaching the word to all the nations — and those are her words,” said Angela Lloyd, one of her attorneys.
Miss Bary ran away from her home in suburban Columbus to Florida shortly before her 17th birthday last year with the help of Christian ministers she met on Facebook. Police investigations in Florida and Ohio found no evidence she faced harm because of her conversion.
Her case has drawn national attention, especially among bloggers, with anti-Islam groups warning she could face death and some Muslim groups saying she’s being exploited by outsiders. Dozens of supporters of the girl rallied outside the courthouse this year before a hearing.
Her attorneys wouldn’t say what she’ll do next or where she’ll live. They also declined to discuss Miss Bary’s attempt to avoid deportation as an illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka.
Magistrate Goodrich last week ruled that a reunion with Miss Bary and her parents was not possible before Miss Bary turned 18, allowing her to apply for a special immigration status for underage illegal immigrants.
The immigration status of her parents is unclear, although lawyers for them and their daughter have said in court the entire family is seeking legal status here.
Miss Bary’s attorneys repeated allegations Tuesday that the teenager had concerns for her safety because of her conversion and said her parents didn’t accept her new faith.
“She has views and she has beliefs, and the sooner the parents come to understand and recognize that, the sooner there could be, down the road, some reconciliation,” Kort Gatterdam, another Bary attorney, said in his first public comments after a gag order dissolved with Miss Bary’s birthday.
Miss Bary’s parents issued a statement blaming “zealot attorneys” for standing between them and their daughter.
“The sad reality is that when our daughter’s usefulness has been used for the political agenda of xenophobia and religious bigotry, when they have moved on to other ways of putting Islam and immigrants on trial, then they will not care about Rifqa Bary anymore,” said the statement from Mohamed and Aysha Bary.
They also defended their attempts to require their daughter to complete 45 weeks of chemotherapy following successful surgery for uterine cancer this summer.
Doctors have told Miss Bary she is cancer-free but say there is a high risk of cancer recurring without the treatment.
Miss Bary’s parents said that if their daughter dies, “the responsibility will fall on her attorneys and all the religious fanatics encouraging her to ignore her doctor’s orders.”
Miss Bary made her decision in consultation with her doctor and will continue medical checkups, Mr. Gatterdam said.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s given up treatment,” he said. “That is not the case at all.”