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Legal Defense Fund Established for Rifqa Bary Attorney
John Stemberger sued by Muslim lawyer from Ohio

02/10/2011 United States (FBW)—Florida Baptist pastor Clayton Cloer has joined other Christian leaders in support of John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and conservative leader who became the focus of legal attacks since representing teenage former Muslim Rifqa Bary.

Stemberger represented Bary who converted to Christianity and fled her home to Florida after saying her parents threatened her for not renouncing her new-found faith.

A non-profit legal defense fund is being established to assist Stemberger in fighting legal action by Omar Tarazi, the Muslim Ohio attorney who unsuccessfully opposed Bary.

Tarazi filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Stemberger in an Ohio federal court and a grievance in with the Florida Bar based on the last 30 seconds of a Dec. 23, 2009, Fox News interview in which Stemberger stated that the Bary family had attorneys already in Florida but had been assigned new counsel in Ohio that were Muslim and had ties to third parties which might present a “conflict of interest.” He did not name Tarazi. (For more information on this, and to watch a clip of the news broadcast, please go online to http://stembergerdefense.com/faq/.)

Cloer, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando, said the lawsuit against Stemberger is a good example of what churches face in a culture that is increasingly hostile towards what Christians believe.

“John Stemberger’s lawsuit illustrates the way in which the church will be persecuted in the 21st century,” Cloer told Florida Baptist Witness. “We may not be jailed for preaching the Gospel, but we will face legal action for our convictions. And John is experiencing that right now.”

Stemberger said the Bar complaint is without merit and called the lawsuit “completely frivolous,” but said in a news release “unfortunately any defamation claim must be taken seriously and defended against a default judgment.”

“My public statements on Fox News were truthful, made in good faith, and constitute core First Amendment protected speech,” Stemberger said. “Both legal attacks will be defended on that basis.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., has joined several national leaders, including former United State Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Gen. William G. Boykin (ret.); historian David Barton, Wallbuilders; and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, among others, to endorse the Stemberger Legal Defense Fund (www.StembergerDefense.com).

Cloer said Stemberger’s situation stands out primarily because he has not been able to find resources to help with his case through two usual means—insurance or in Christian legal defense.

“John’s situation further confirms to me that we need a new approach to facing the legal challenges of the 21st century,” Cloer said.

Much like the role of auditors and an organization which provides accountability for churches and ministries in the area of finances, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), Cloer said ministries need a similar entity to certify them and prepare them for legal defense in a way that limits liability in other matters. He believes such an entity should also work with insurance companies to standardize procedures and offer lower rates for member churches and ministries.

“Unfortunately, the churches are in a position where it’s everyone for himself,” Cloer said. “We are not pooling our resources to prepare for an onslaught of legal persecution.”

In related news, Bary, the young woman at the heart of the lawsuit against Stemberger, released her first public statement Feb. 8, in the form of an affidavit praising Stemberger’s work and professionalism.

The young woman, who has since turned 18 and has received permanent legal residency status in the United States, asks readers to the website http://stembergerdefense. com/: “Would you please help my friend and lawyer John Stemberger? He defended me at no cost and helped me gain my freedom and is now being attacked by the Muslim lawyer who opposed me in court. Thank you for supporting me. Will you now also help and support John?”

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