INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lawyers for American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh asked a federal judge Wednesday to find the Federal Bureau of Prisons in contempt for not allowing Muslim inmates in a high-security Indiana prison unit to pray together five times a day, as required by their faith.
The prisons agency has said inmates of all religions housed in the Terre Haute federal prison's Communications Management Unit have been allowed to pray together three times daily after a federal judge ruled in Lindh's favor in a lawsuit seeking the prayers.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana argues in its contempt motion filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis that three times a day isn't what Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson's Jan. 11 ruling required. Magnus-Stinson said Lindh, 32, sincerely believes Islam mandates Muslims pray together five times a day and federal law requires the prison to accommodate his beliefs.
The motion also said prayer times set by the prison make only two daily prayers possible at some times during the year or make prayers impossible to perform at proper times.
The prison has "knowingly and intentionally established a procedure and schedule for prayers that prevents John Lindh and other Muslim prisoners within the CMU from engaging in congregate prayer during all times that they are released from their cells," the motion said.
Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said it was "immensely disappointing that the federal government feels it can avoid complying with the judge's order."
Bureau of Prisons spokesman Christ Burke said the agency would have no comment on the motion because the legal action was pending.
Lindh's father, Frank Lindh, told The Associated Press that he had told his son to be patient.
"It's regrettable it had to go that far. The judge's order was very clear," he said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.
Those housed in Lindh's unit are considered extreme security risks and their interactions are closely monitored. Until last month, inmates housed in the unit were only allowed to pray together once per week or during Ramadan or on other significant religious holidays. At other times, inmates had to pray alone in their cells and hope to hear each other through the walls.
Magnus-Stinson found the policy violated a 1993 law banning the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest, and the government chose not to appeal her ruling.
Prison officials said during the trial on Lindh's lawsuit that allowing group prayers every day would pose a security risk and that inmates had used religion as cover for gang-like activity, but the judge dismissed those arguments as insubstantial.
The government chose not to appeal the ruling.
The lawsuit originally was filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit. Lindh joined the lawsuit in 2010, and the case drew far more attention. The other plaintiffs dropped out as they were released from prison or transferred to other units.
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