ACLU Fights to Give American Taliban Group Prayer Rights in Prison

John Walker Lindh

(AP) — Two more Muslim inmates are trying to join American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and another prisoner in a federal lawsuit asking for them to be allowed to hold daily group prayers in their highly restricted cell block.

A federal judge on Monday gave the American Civil Liberties Union until Jan. 17 to respond to objections from the Bureau of Prisons.

The push to add individual plaintiffs comes after U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson denied the case class action status last month.

Lindh, 29, and Brian Carr, 43, claim the prison’s policy restricting group prayer in the Communications Management Unit at the federal prison in Terre Haute violates their religious rights. The government contends that restrictions at the CMU are necessary for security and don’t violate inmates’ rights. Both sides hope Magnus-Stinson will rule the facts are in their favor, avoiding a trial.

Carr, who is serving a 20-year sentence for a bank robbery in Washington, joined the lawsuit in September after another inmate involved in it was released from prison, ACLU attorney Ken Falk said.

Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a motion in federal court in Indianapolis seeking to add two other inmates — Ali Asad Chandia, 34, and Rafil Dhafir, 62 — to the prayer suit. The Bureau of Prisons, however, opposed Dhafir joining the suit, saying he has not exhausted administrative remedies.

“The allegations are identical, they’re all raising the same issue,” Falk said.

Lindh and the others argue that their religion requires them to pray five times a day, preferably in a group. But group prayers at the prison are generally limited to once a week except during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, court documents said.

Terre Haute associate warden Harvey Church testified in a deposition given in January that 24 of the 41 CMU inmates were Muslim. The government says in court documents that there is no evidence that Muslims were confined to the CMU because of their religion and that most Muslims don’t adhere to the requirement of five daily prayers.

Chandia, a former Maryland teacher, was one of roughly a dozen men from the Washington area convicted as part what prosecutors called a “Virginia jihad network” that used paintball games in 2000 and 2001 to train for holy war around the globe. He was sentenced in 2006 to 15 years in prison.

Dhafir, a Muslim doctor from Syracuse, N.Y., is serving a 22-year prison sentence after his conviction in February 2005 on 59 criminal counts, including money laundering and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions against Iraq. He was found guilty of misusing $2 million that donors gave to his unlicensed charity, Help the Needy, and spending $544,000 for his own purposes.