Photo: Todd Ehlers (Flickr)
Attorneys for American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh say the warden at a Terre Haute federal prison is not complying with a court order allowing Lindh and other Muslim inmates to pray in a group five times a day.
Lindh’s attorneys are asking a federal judge to compel the warden to comply with the judge’s January ruling that Muslim prisoners should be allowed to participate in daily group prayer.
Warden John Oliver instituted a policy in March allowing groups of ten inmates to pray three times a day, even though the prisoners are typically out of their cells long enough to pray five times a day, which traditional Muslim law requires.
But in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis on Thursday, the warden said that policy created security concerns after he says Muslim inmates began exhibiting gang-like behavior, including extorting and disciplining other inmates and openly defying prison staff. In response, Oliver changed the prison unit’s policy in May, only allowing Muslim inmates to pray in their cells in groups of two, which he says is still congregate prayer and therefore complies with the court order.
But American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana attorney Ken Falk, who represents Lindh, says the prison’s policy regarding religious activities should be the least restrictive possible.
“What the court found was that group prayer in the unit outside the cell had been occurring for years on this unit and as I tried to say to the court, it seemed that the court’s decision wanted group prayer to be treated like any other congregate activity occurring outside the cell, not restricted to the cell,” he says.
The judge did not give a timetable for her ruling.