Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Michigan Department of Human Services' employee advocating for Evangelical Christians

Muslim man claims religious conspiracy
Dad sues Department of Human Services, says ex-wife was told to keep teen daughter from him.
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- A Muslim man says the state Department of Human Services and a local church are conspiring as part of a custody battle to prohibit his daughter from practicing Islam and visiting him.Abraham Ben-Abbad, 38, of Dearborn alleges in a suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court that the Department of Human Services and a caseworker, William McDonald, advised Ben-Abbad's former wife that she need not allow their daughter, Hend Almanasir, 13, to visit her father, including during Ramadan and on other religious holidays, despite court orders mandating the visitation.

Arab-American and Muslim organizations in Metro Detroit, which are monitoring the case closely, say the state should not interfere in a custody battle with the intent of participating in a decision about what religion a child should pursue. "To me, my kids are the most important things in my life," Ben-Abbad said, breaking into tears at a news conference Tuesday. "Especially, Hend; she is the oldest. She grew up, and I cared for her most of the time."

McDonald and the state also allowed a local church, the Dearborn Assembly of God, on Tireman, to participate in meetings to plan his daughter's future, according to Ben-Abbad, his lawyer, Shereef Akeel of Birmingham, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.The lawsuit alleges that the pastor of the church, Trey Hancock, offers an outreach program for American women married to Muslim men, and that his ministry is intent on converting Muslims to Christianity.

The purpose of involving the church in planning for his daughter's future is to steer her away from Islam, the faith in which she was raised, Ben-Abbad said and the suit alleges.Hancock and officials of the church were not available to comment. When a reporter called the church and identified himself, a man who answered the phone hung up.Officials at the state Department of Human Services say they are unaware of the suit and the allegations."However, if it is justified, we would consider an investigation," said Maureen Sorbet, a spokeswoman for the department.

"Any issue of religious preference is taken seriously by the department."While court orders permitting Ben-Abbad's visitation rights remain in place and were recently reaffirmed by Judge Christopher Dingell of the Wayne County Circuit Court, McDonald and the department have defied the orders, according to Ben-Abbad, his lawyer and the civil rights groups.Dingell cited the state's defiance in an Oct. 31 order, in which the judge said he was nonetheless "reluctant to use contempt powers" to cite the state.

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