A judge has ruled a federal prison in Terre Haute has 30 days from Friday to allow Muslim inmates group prayer anytime they are out of their cells.
The order is a clarification of a January ruling that indicated the prison’s policy prohibiting Muslim inmates from participating in group prayer was a violation of federal law.
“Put simply, just as inmates are free to assemble, socialize, and engage in other group activities in common, recreational areas during times they are released from their cells, so too must they be allowed to engage in group prayer in common, out-of-cell areas, which the Warden may designate in his discretion,” Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson writes.
Magnus-Stinson ruled in January that federal law required the Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute to allow its Muslim inmates group prayer in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Then, in April the ACLU, which originally brought the lawsuit to court on behalf of American-Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other inmates, filed a complaint to hold the prison in contempt of court. ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk said the prison was limiting the number of times the inmates were allowed to pray when religious activities should be least restrictive as possible.
“We’re obviously very happy with [the ruling],” Falk said. “We had gone back to court because we thought that the warden had clearly misconstrued the judge’s orders and we thought that Mr. Lindh and the other Muslim prisoners were entitled to pray outside of their cells together and that’s exactly what the judge said.”
Magnus-Stinson said the warden had originally set aside a common room for group prayer three times daily, but later revoked that access and has been limiting prayer to two people at a time in a cell.
“Given the early effort, it is evident to the Court that the Warden’s current policy on group prayer does not constitute the least restrictive means of furthering safe and orderly operation,” Magnus-Stinson writes.
Prison officials could not be reached for comment.
The warden argued in June that he was complying with the first order because in-cell prayers were groups of two, and, therefore, still congregate prayer.
Magnus-Stinson’s order does not hold the prison in contempt of court but requires the warden to create a policy that complies with the ruling.