INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal prison in Indiana on Wednesday was expected to begin allowing American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other Muslim inmates housed in his tightly controlled unit to start holding daily ritual group prayers.
The government had until Tuesday to appeal U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson's Jan. 11 ruling allowing the daily group prayers, but it didn't. Magnus-Stinson found that a prison policy preventing Lindh and the other Muslims in his unit from praying together daily when not locked in their cells violated a 1993 law banning the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest.
She said her ruling didn't prohibit less restrictive security measures in the Communications Management Unit, which houses terrorists and other inmates the government doesn't want freely communicating with the outside world.
U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying prosecutors disagreed with Magnus-Stinson's ruling, but "after due consideration" high officials in the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons decided not to appeal it.
Ken Falk, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represented Lindh in a lawsuit challenging the prison policy, said Wednesday afternoon he didn't yet know if the prison had started allowing the prayers. Officials at the prison didn't return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking that same information.
"We are proud that our son stood up for his fundamental right of religious freedom," Lindh's family said in a statement. "We are glad the warden now will now accommodate John's right to pray in accordance with the requirements his conscience and his religious faith."
Group prayers had been allowed once a week and on high holy days such as Ramadan or Christmas in the Terre Haute prison. But at other times, inmates had to pray alone in their cells.
Lindh said that didn't meet the Quran's requirements, and that the Hanbali school of Islam to which he adheres requires him to pray daily with other Muslims.
Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. He was captured by U.S. troops that year, and in 2002 pleaded guilty to supplying services and carrying explosives for the now-defunct Taliban government. He is eligible for release in 2019.
Raised Catholic, the California native was 12 when he saw the movie "Malcolm X" and became interested in Islam. He converted at age 16. Walker told Newsweek after his capture that he had entered Afghanistan to help the Taliban build a "pure Islamic state."
Lindh joined the prayer lawsuit in 2010, three years after being sent to the prison near the border between Indiana and Illinois. The suit was originally filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit, but it got far more attention when Lindh joined the case. The other plaintiffs later dropped out as they were released or transferred from the prison.
Follow Charles Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CharlesDWilson