American Taliban John Walker Lindh Challenges Prison Prayer Policies in Court
(TERRE HAUTE, Ind.) -- John Walker Lindh, dubbed the American Taliban when he was captured at the beginning of the Afghan war, is suing prison officials for the right to pray five times a day with fellow Islamic inmates.
Lindh, 31, is expected to testify in an Indianapolis courtroom Monday regarding the ban on daily group prayers in prison.
Lindh is being held in the Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, Ind., where he is serving a 20-year sentence for supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.
"I am a Muslim and my religion requires that I perform five daily prayers in congregation. This is mandatory and not optional," Lindh wrote in a handwritten complaint to prison officials that was also filed in federal court.
A ban on daily group prayer was instituted in 2007 after Muslim inmates ignored a lockdown caused by a fire alarm, court documents stated. Inmates are free to pray in their individual cells.
Every Friday, Lindh and his fellow inmates in the specialized unit, are permitted to gather in the multipurpose room of the prison for the Jum'ah prayer service, which the Koran dictates must be done in a group, court documents stated.
The Communications Management Unit, which was established in 2006, has been referred to as "Guantanamo North." Inmates whose communications are considered "high risk" to the prison community and the public's security are housed in individual cells within the unit, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
Lindh's lawsuit offered a glimpse inside the unit, where communications between prisoners and their visitors are tightly monitored.
Inmates in the unit are "out of their cells for virtually the entire day and are allowed to engage in a whole variety of congregate activities," court documents stated. Group prayer, however, is prohibited.
Amos Guiora, a professor of law at the University of Utah who teaches religion and terrorism courses, said daily group prayers in the unit are unlikely to be a terrorism concern.
"I don't think it raises security concerns, but if it goes beyond the text of the prayer than I can understand how it could be seen as a security question," Guiora said.
The daily prayers typically take "only a few minutes," according to Lindh's lawsuit.
Lindh, who converted to Islam as a teenager, was captured in Afghanistan on Nov. 25, 2001. During his sentencing, he condemned terrorism and said he made a "mistake" joining the Taliban.
"Although I thought I knew a good deal about the Taliban when I went to the front line, it's clear to me now that there were many things of which I was not aware," he said.
Lindh is eligible for release in 2019.
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