John Walker Lindh, an American Taliban, serving a 20-year sentence in an Indiana Federal Prison, is allegedly banned from praying, especially in a prayer group, while incarcerated. A judge sentenced him to 20 years for conspiring to kill Americans and aiding Afghanistan's Taliban government.
Lindh belongs to an Islamic sect that requires Muslims to pray, preferably in a group setting, five times a day, and according to him to do otherwise is a sin. He stated that the U. S. government is forcing him to sin by denying him the right to pray. Lindh stated that he thought it was "absurd" that he and other Muslims housed in a highly restricted federal prison are prohibited from praying together daily.
The 31-year-old's testimony came during the first day of the trial in a lawsuit that began in 2009. The initial complaint filed by Lindh and two other inmates against the prison warden states the government cannot ban daily group prayer without showing it has a compelling interest.
Kenneth Falk, the American Civil Liberties Union legal director who represents Lindh, said that if the Terre Haute prison allows inmates to talk, play cards and engage in other recreational activities when they are out of their cells, then they should be allowed to pray. Prisoners at the facility are housed in individual cells. They are out of their cells most of the day, except during the early-morning and late-night hours.
Lindh and other inmates testified that they did not know of problems arising with other prayer groups. He said he would continue to challenge the rule against Islamic prayer, because it is his obligation as a Muslim.
"It's different when you're being prevented from praying by circumstances, as opposed to being prevented by human beings," Lindh testified. "Then you have the responsibility to change that prohibition to permission as much as you're able to. That's the course I'm pursuing."
The government allegedly stated that their prayers are a threat to security, despite the ACLU saying there is no sermon or conversation with the prayers. According to an ACLU spokesman, the prisoners are allowed to participate in group activities during the day, as long as it is peaceful, but not prayer, and they believe that Lindh’s position that if a prisoner is allowed group activities, then they should allow prayer too.
Lindh said there are no legitimate security concerns in allowing Muslim inmates to perform daily congregational prayers.
"The warden's security rationale is faulty," he said.
The trial is expected to last at least two more days, Falk said.
According to the ACLU, Lindh is only asking to pray during the day and not after 9:00 p.m.