John Walker Lindh, otherwise known as the "American Taliban" for his willful participation in the Taliban army during the U.S.-led 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, has sued the federal government for denying him permission to hold prayer meetings with other Muslims behind bars.
The tight-security Federal Correction Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., does not currently allow prisoners to meet in large groups, and Lindh claims the policy is a violation of his religious rights. Followers of Islam are required to pray five times a day, and the religion necessitates group prayer whenever possible. The prisons' Communications Management Unit, where Lindh is being kept, only allows for group meetings for about an hour a week, The Associated Press reported.
The 31-year-old American, who received training with al-Qaida and is now serving 20 years in prison for conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists, first joined the lawsuit in 2010 after two other Muslim inmates in the same unit started the petition in 2009. Those inmates are no longer in the same unit, but Lindh is pursuing the case and wants to be allowed to pray with other Muslims in groups.
The U.S. government, however, argues that the restrictions placed on group meetings in the prison are necessary for security reasons, and that no religious rights are being infringed upon – the inmates are free to pray whenever they want, and can hear others pray in their individual cells.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Lindh, has argued that there is no compelling need for these restrictions. At a hearing in February, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson determined that Lindh's religious beliefs and prayer needs were sincere, and that a review needs to be made to see if the group prayer ban really is needed for security reasons.
The case begins Aug. 27, although the location for the trial has not yet been chosen.