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Pendleton Prison Inmate Sues For Right To Group Prayer

An inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility is suing for the right to participate in group prayer. This comes on the heels of another case in which a judge ruled Muslim inmates at a federal prison had to be given the same right.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is filing suit on behalf of Paul Veal—an inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, northeast of Indianapolis.

The ACLU alleges the Department of Correction is violating Veal’s freedom of religion by not allowing him to hold communal worship and religious study.

Veal is a member of an African religion that believes they’re one of the lost tribes of Israel. ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk says in November the Pendleton prison suspended group prayer unless a volunteer is present.

“There are many religions that meet regularly in the DOC that do so without outside volunteers, that do so with the prisoners leading the services under supervision of the staff, of course. And that’s exactly what we’re asking to occur here,” he says.

U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson recently ruled in favor of prisoners in a similar case involving a federal prison in Terre Haute. American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh filed a class action lawsuit alleging the prison warden was violating his religious freedoms by restricting group prayer.

Stinson in January ruled the warden must allow the inmates to take part in group prayer any time they are out of their cells.

Whether that would influence the most recent case is a bit complicated.

Falk says the cases are not related and fall under slightly different laws because one was a federal and the other was a state prison.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Aviva Orenstein says people could expect that judges would rule similarly in such similar cases, but the outcome depends on one key issue—safety.

“Basically the same standards in federal prisons and in state prisons is the government has to come up and explain why it’s absolutely necessary not to give you your religious interests. And the presumption is that you get them,” she says.

Department of Correction officials declined to comment except to say the state would review the complaint and respond in court at the appropriate time.

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