Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"American Taliban" Inmate Wins RFRA Challenge To Muslim Prayer Restrictions

The media, such as this article in the Lafayette, Indiana Journal and Courier, are giving a good deal of attention to an Indiana federal district court's decision in Lindh v. Warden, Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Haute, Indiana, (SD IN, Jan. 11, 2013), the successful RFRA challenge by so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, now in federal prison, to a policy prohibiting daily group prayer by Muslim inmates housed in the prison's Communications Management Unit. The court found that:
congregate prayer activity that the Plaintiff seeks, which is the same congregate activity that occurred without serious incident for at least three years in the CMU, is not significantly different than any other group activity that is already allowed in the CMU. It is not a formal service with a sermon. It is instead a brief meeting to engage in ritualistic prayer. It is uncontested, for example, that Muslim prisoners may gather together in the multi-purpose room, without restriction on number, to listen or watch recordings, in Arabic, of verses from the Koran. Given that this activity is already allowed, along with a host  of other congregate activities, allowing persons to recite short formulaic prayers is entirely consistent with the activities that are allowed in the CMU.
The court concluded that current restrictions impose a substantial burden on Lindh's religious exercise, and are not the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest.