Suit challenges prison’s Muslim prayer limits
INDIANAPOLIS - Two Muslim inmates held in a special unit at the federal prison in Terre Haute say they aren’t allowed to pray in groups as often as their religion commands and have asked a federal judge to ease worship limits imposed by the Bureau of Prisons.
The prison in Indiana houses several high-security inmates, including American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh, who is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding Afghanistan’s now-defunct Taliban government.
The June 16 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana challenges limits on Islamic worship in the prison’s restrictive Communications Management Unit, where about 30 of the 40 inmates are Muslim.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day, but the lawsuit, filed on behalf of inmates Enaam Arnaout and Randall T. Royer, says inmates in the CMU are allowed to pray as a group just one hour a week. The ACLU contends that violates a federal law barring the government from restricting religious activities without showing a compelling need.
The Indiana lawsuit is one of two the ACLU has filed in the past week concerning conditions in the CMU. Its other lawsuit contends that the unit was created in secrecy and keeps its mostly Muslim inmates in virtual isolation.
A Justice Department spokesman said last week that the government followed federal rules in creating the special unit in November 2006. Designed to house prisoners who require additional security, the unit closely monitors inmates’ outside contacts.
Bureau of Prisons officials declined yesterday to comment on the prayer lawsuit.
Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, questioned policies allowing prisoners to watch television, play cards, or engage in other group activities but limiting group worship to one hour on Fridays.
“That means four people can sit around the table playing cards or talking about the basketball game but they can’t worship,’’ Falk said.