American Taliban Lindh says Ind. prison’s ban on daily group prayer violates religious freedom

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. government claims it has the ultimate proof that American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh might foment hate and violence among fellow Muslim inmates if they’re allowed to pray together daily. He has already tried, it argues.
But Lindh, 31, accuses the government of going too far in its drive for security and trampling on his freedom of religion by restricting group prayers among Muslim inmates in the Terre Haute, Ind., prison unit where he has been housed since 2007.
Lindh is expected to testify Monday in federal court in Indianapolis during the first day of a trial that will examine how far prison officials can go to ensure security in the age of terrorism.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and the Hanbali school to which Lindh belongs requires group prayer if it is possible. But inmates in the Communications Management Unit are allowed to pray together only once a week except during Ramadan. At other times, they must pray in their individual cells. Lindh claims that doesn’t meet the Quran’s requirements and is inappropriate because he is forced to kneel in close proximity to his toilet.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is representing Lindh, contends the policy violates a federal law barring the government from restricting religious activities without showing a compelling need.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit. Lindh joined the lawsuit in 2010, and the case has drawn far more attention since then. The other plaintiffs have dropped out as they were released from prison or transferred to other units.
Lindh had been charged with conspiring to kill Americans and support terrorists, but those charges were dropped in a plea agreement. He is serving a 20-year sentence for supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government of Afghanistan and carrying explosives for them. He is eligible for release in 2019.