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Friday, January 11, 2013

Ind. Decisions - "US-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh wins prison prayer lawsuit"

Updating a long list of earlier ILB entries, here is today's 30-page ruling by SD Ind.Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the case of John Lindh v. Warden, Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Haute, Indiana. It concludes:

In passing the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, the United States Congress restricted the ability of federal prison wardens to substantially burden the sincerely held religious beliefs of inmates. Such burdens can only be imposed to further a compelling governmental interest, and by use of the least restrictive means. Throughout this action, the Warden has argued for deference to his decisions, yet he has not given appropriate deference to the standard imposed by Congress. Accordingly, the Court finds that the Warden’s policy prohibiting daily group prayer by Muslim inmates violates RFRA. The Warden will have 60 days in which to employ a new policy with respect to daily group prayer for Muslims. The Court is issuing today a permanent injunction to take effect in 60 days.
Here is the Indianapolis Star coverage, posted early this evening, written by Kristine Guerra. Some quotes:
A federal judge has ruled in favor of “American Taliban” fighter John Walker Lindh’s challenge to a federal prison in Terre Haute on its restrictions on group prayer.

According to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus Stinson, Lindh and other Muslims housed in the Federal Correctional Institution should be allowed to pray in groups and “the denial of daily group prayer opportunities substantially burdens Mr. Lindh’s religious beliefs.”

Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence at the federal penitentiary in Terra Haute after pleading guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an a explosive while committing a felony.

During his testimony last August, Lindh said prison procedures on group prayers must change and that they force him to sin because Islam requires him to pray five times a day and with other Muslims, if possible. * * *

Ken Falk, Lindh's attorney and legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the key factor in the court's decision is the government's failure to prove that group prayers pose security threats.

"What we presented to the judge is that it made no sense to have a prison setting where prisoners are free to engage in all sorts of activities and say that they cannot pray together," Falk said. "Law requires that the government present compelling reason why religious practice should be denied and the government failed to do that."

The government is looking at the possibility of filing at an appeal, U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett said in a statement.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 11, 2013 06:02 PM
Posted to Ind Fed D.Ct. Decisions