Barbara Shelly

July 3, 2014

Three stories to make us cherish our rule of law

We are a nation of laws and our laws don’t condone sending unaccompanied children back to places where they’re likely to face great harm and even death. For that I for one am most appreciative.

Three stories in the news make me grateful for the fortune of having been born a United States citizen. In the spirit of Independence Day, I am sharing the reasons.

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim was sentenced to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian man and refusing to renounce Christianity. The death sentence was lifted, but not before Ibrahim was forced to give birth in prison with her legs shackled.

She attempted to board a plane with her husband and two children, but was arrested again, this time accused of trying to leave the country with falsified travel documents. In the latest development, a religious court in Khartoum said it would consider a case brought by some of Ibrahim’s relatives, who want the court to rule that Ibrahim is a Muslim.

We spend plenty of time in the U.S. arguing about religion and law. (Mention Hobby Lobby these days and most people think birth control, not glue guns.) But the right to choose one’s own faith is not in dispute. Our rule of law is imperfect, but it exists to protect citizens from political and religious persecutions.

As for Ibrahim’s whereabouts, she and her family have taken refuge — where else? — in the U.S. Embassy in Sudan.

Al Jazeera journalists

Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed last month received harsh prison sentences for practicing journalism in Egypt. An Egyptian court said they were guilty of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news. It sentenced Greste and Fahmy to seven years and Baher Mohamed to 10.

Al Anstey, Al Jazeera English managing director, summed up the injustice in a statement: “Today three colleagues and friends were sentenced, and will continue to be kept behind bars for doing a brilliant job of being great journalists. ‘Guilty’ of covering stories with great skill and integrity. ‘Guilty’ of defending people’s right to know what is going on in their world.”

We’ve had our issues with whistle-blowers and leaks of government secrets. But journalists are not arrested because of the sources they speak to, or the news they report.

The jailing of the three journalists prompted condemnation around the world, but not in Egypt. Its news outlets, muzzled and cowed, cannot tell the story of a government that has abandoned any pretense of preserving the liberties of its citizens.

The unaccompanied children

The amazing flood of Central American children who make their way across our nation’s southern border is being called a crisis, and from financial and security aspects it certainly is causing problems.

But “crisis” is seeing your brother murdered by gangs, receiving death threats and being gang-raped on the journey across Mexico — all experiences recounted by a 17-year-old Honduran girl in the Miami Herald. Children even younger have told equally harrowing stories.

These children are coming here by the thousands because their countries have been taken over by criminals. They come because we are a humanitarian nation. Whatever cramped quarters and bureaucratic mazes they encounter are light years better than what they left behind.

And to the sorry crowd that stopped buses of children and families from getting to a Border Patrol station in California this week, your U.S. Congress passed a law in 2008 that lays out a process for dealing with unaccompanied child immigrants who well might be victims of trafficking and violence. It requires that the children be safely sheltered and provided with legal representation or advocates. That’s why we can’t simply “return to sender,” as the vigilantes so cleverly demand.

We are a nation of laws and our laws don’t condone sending children back to places where they’re likely to face great harm and even death. For that I for one am most appreciative.

Happy Independence Day.

Reach Barbara Shelly at 816-234-4594 or Twitter: bshelly.

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