School started today and I have to find a news story for a current events assignment. I don’t think I am using this TIME story, but I do find it weird and interesting.
Rifqa Bary, 17, reads a Bible during her court proceedings in Orlando, Fla., on Aug. 21, 2009
Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel / Landov
Florida has a knack for turning family dysfunction into national spectacle. Ten years ago it gave us the Elian Gonzalez mess; five years later came the Terri Schiavo debacle. Now we have a new domestic dispute that threatens to become another culture-war circus, complete with a clash-of-religions angle to boot: the battle for Rifqa Bary, a 17-year-old girl from Columbus, Ohio, who ran away to an Evangelical church in Orlando, Fla., because, she claims, her Sri Lankan Muslim family has threatened to kill her for recently converting to Christianity.
Forget for a minute that this story has nothing to do with Florida being dysfunctional, the real question is why this is in the news? Either she’s a minor and her name shouldn’t be used, or she’s an adult and can make her own decisions. And why is she reading the bible in court?
There’s a lot in the right wing blogs about this story because they see it as anti-Christian discrimination. They’re focusing on this:
The Orlando lawyer who claims to represent Rifqa, conservative activist John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council (which fought in 2005 to keep Terri Schiavo on life support), last week wrote in a petition to keep the girl in Florida that she “is in imminent threat of harm from the extreme radical Muslim community in her hometown of Columbus.” He warned that one of the world’s largest “cells of al-Qaeda operatives” once worked from a Columbus mosque the Barys have attended.
But there’s a lot more in this story to be concerned about.
For instance, how did they go two weeks without telling the police or CPS? I have left my home four or five times, and the police have always known about it at the time or an hour or two later. Almost three weeks? Why didn’t the people in Florida tell anyone? Did her parents report her missing? Did her friends know where she went? My best friend knows if I go out of my house for 5 minutes!
The saga began in mid-July when Rifqa, after a dispute with her parents, bolted from her home and rode a bus to Orlando. There she took refuge with the Rev. Blake Lorenz, the pastor of a conservative Christian congregation, the Global Revolution Church, and his wife Beverly, whom the cheerleader and honor student had met on Facebook. Almost three weeks later, on Aug. 6, the Lorenzes finally let authorities and Rifqa’s frantic parents know the girl was with them. Then, a few days later, Rifqa dropped a bombshell to an Orlando television station: she had run away, she claimed, because her family, angry about her conversion to Christianity, had “threatened to kill me.”
Maybe she was taken away from the pastor and his family because it took them so long to contact authorities.
After its probe of the situation this month, Florida’s Department of Children and Family Services took Rifqa from the Lorenzes and placed her in foster care. At a hearing in Orlando on Aug. 21, a judge ruled that she could remain in Florida until he decides, probably at a later hearing slated for Sept. 3, where she should ultimately go.
As Fox News sees it,
Personally, I think they are exploiting it. This girl’s story may be good for a newspaper for judges and social workers, but it shouldn’t be on Fox News or in Time Magazine.
Dear Levi & Mercede,
I was sorry to hear about your mom’s arrest and plea for drug use and selling drugs. I was even more sorry that it’s in the newspapers and on the blogs, and that people are making fun of her.
I am around your age (nearly 18) and my mom has been in jail for almost eight years on drug charges, so I know some of what you are going through.
I am also completely a busybody and am going to use this blog post to give both of you some advice.
- Go to Alateen. Or ACOA. Or someplace that’s NOT your church where you can learn about addicts and addiction how none of this is your fault and that you can’t cure your mom. Also, Mercede, if there’s a support group in your town or in your HS for kids who have a parent in prison, GO!
- Mercede, I don’t know who you are living with these days, but my brother became my guardian when he was 18, and he was way too young. And that’s without being a father himself or having reporters and photographers following him around. I hope that you stay with a family, a whole, real family, at least until you finish HS.
- You will find out really soon who your real friends are and who thinks a lot less of you because your mom is in jail. Sometimes even good friends can be insensitive, but at least they still like you for who YOU are. Some kids are incredibly creepy and think it’s cool to know someone who knows someone in jail. Stay away from them. Same thing with overly curious adults.
- People will ask you what they can do to help. It’s a dumb question, but if they ask twice, tell them to do something to improve life for prisoners and provide treatment for addicts. You may even want to join organizations that encourage treatment instead of prison for addicts.
- Stand up for your mom. Make sure that the lawyers and guardians and corrections people all know that someone is watching and that someone cares. I don’t visit anymore, but I do have an adult in my life who communicates with my mom and with the prison.
- Because your mom is an addict like my mom, and because we watched our moms use drugs instead of facing problems head-on, all three of us can become an addict more easily than most people. So learn what the signs are, and be careful, and watch out for each other.
We all need to work on making this country less inclined to incarcerate addicts and more inclined to help them find treatment. And that starts with making sure that drug use is not a crime. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol and it’s not working for drugs.
I hope you do go to Alateen and counseling and get all the help you need to not have to ride your mother’s roller coaster addiction. You didn’t cause it and you can’t cure it, but you can learn healthy ways to get through the next few years.
I don’t have a view of the same beach from here, but it’s a nice place and we can hang out until Peanut Butter gets the electricity turned back on over at Relaxed Politics.
No dancing on the tables or breaking stuff!