Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ACLU Sues To Force Terre Haute Federal Prison To Allow Group Muslim Prayers Five Times A Week

If the Guantanamo Bay detention camp that houses suspected terrorists is closed by the Obama administration, one of the federal prisons the government has discussed housing those detainees is the the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute. Well, the ACLU of Indiana has decided it wants to make the prison as accommodating as possible for those detainees should they be transferred there. The civil rights organization has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Muslim inmates housed there, complaining that prison officials won't allow them to conduct prayer groups as often as they would like.

The lawsuit doesn't claim that prison officials aren't allowing them to pray five times a day as required by their religion because they are already allowed to do that. The lawsuit doesn't complain that prison officials aren't allowing them to pray as a group once a week because they are already allowed to do that. It seems the ACLU believes the thirty Muslim inmates, who are being housed in the facility's restrictive Communications Management Unit ("CMU") at the facility, should be entitled to gather as a group five times a week to pray as required by their religion. The ACLU contends that the denial of group prayer meetings five times a week violates a federal law barring the government from restricting religious activities without showing a compelling need.

The CMU at the Terre prison was established by the Justice Department and houses approximately 40 inmates, 30 of which are Muslim. American-born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh is serving a 23-year sentence there. The federal Bureau of Prisons established the unit because of criticism it had not been properly monitoring the communications of its inmates. According to Wikipedia, most of the inmates within the CMU are Arab Muslims. The ACLU has accused the prison in the past of racial profiling for housing inmates within the CMU. "The CMU monitors all telephone calls and mail, and requires that all inmate conversations occur in English unless special permission is arranged for conversations in other languages," Wikipedia says.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Randall Royer. Royer is a former spokesman for the Muslim American Society who is serving 20 years for his participation in what federal prosecutors called "a Virginia Jihad network." The group used paintball games prior to 9/11 to prepare for holy war against nations deemed hostile to Islam, including the United States.

The ACLU's attorney, Ken Falk, says prison officials let prisoners watch TV and play cards together but they can't worship together as often as they wish. Critics of Falk's view would point out "the increased use of prisons by al-Qaeda and other captured Islamists as focal points for recruitment and indoctrination" as a reason for prison officials to restrict religious activities." Prayer meetings sometimes become a ruse for more sinister purposes.


Chris Worden said...


Is it true that prisoners get to watch TV and play cards together? If so, it would certainly seem that denying the right to pray as a group is discriminatory, punitive, or both, wouldn't it?

Gary R. Welsh said...

There are many things that different religions require that would pose an unreasonable burden on prison officials to accommodate if they had to do it for the religion of every inmate. I believe the accommodations they are already making for them are reasonable. The question is where to draw the line. To suggest the restriction to one group prayer meeting a week is punitive or discriminatory is taking it a bit too far in my judgment.

Downtown Indy said...

I can't help but notice they aren't suing to prevent having their hands or heads cut off. So they already have a pretty good deal vs. a Muslim prison.

But why would truly devout Muslims find themselves in a prison to begin with?

And admittedly I'm ignorant of most all of their religion's requirements - but is praying en mass mandatory?

Baloo said...

What ever happened to not allowing things in prison "For the Safety and Security of the Facility."???

If the inmates as Ipopa said are being allowed to get together to do other things I can see where that argument is not valid, but I doubt that is happening due to the Security classifications of the inmates being represented by the ACLU.

Unknown said...

The ACLU may be right - certainly not as a matter of common sense, or as a matter of general constitutional law (see Employment Div. v. Smith (the peyote case), but because congress passed RFRA, which prohibits the (federal) government from "substantially burdening" the exercise of religious freedom unless: (1) there is a compelling state interest in the law; and (2) the law is the least restrictive means for doing so. The law does not contain (but should contain) an exception for prisons.

As I'm sure you - and anyone else who speaks constitutionese - know, "compelling state interest" and "least restrictive means" are really high standards. Unfortunately, I can't imagine that the ACLU wouldn't be able to show any number of less restrictive means that the prison could use, even though these means will undoubtedly be less convenient and more expensive.

Note that RFRA was recently found to permit the use of otherwise illegal drugs in religious ceremonies in Vegetal.

Jon E. Easter said...

I don't want to open a can of worms, and this is certainly like comparing smoking tobacco with smoking lettuce but...

Aren't Christian "prayer groups" sometimes "ruses" to support far right wing activities?

Just a thought.

Dana said...

Prayer five times a week...

Well, let's make sure they don't wear pants during prayer.

This is one of the greatest sins. Abu Dtharr reported that the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wasallam) said, There are three people whom Allah shall not speak to on the Day of Resurrection, nor shall he look at them, nor shall he purify them, and they shall have a painful torment: One whose garment hangs down below his ankles, almanaan, and (a merchant) who sells of his merchandise by means of false oath.

Some people think that wearing clothes that hang below the ankles is not a sin if they abstain from doing so while praying only. Others think that wearing such a garment is a sin only if it is worn out of pride; otherwise, they believe there is no harm in doing so. However, the above and many other traditions indicate clearly that wearing clothes that hang below the ankles (for men) is a grave sin regardless of whether such garments are worn out of habit or pride. There are other authentic traditions that emphasize wearing clothing that hangs below the ankles out of pride entails harsher punishment. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu 'alaihi wasallam) said The part of the garment which hangs below the ankles is (punishable by) Fire (on the Day of Resurrection).

It is commonplace to see brothers folding up the hems of their pants for prayer. However, as soon as prayer is completed, they unfold their pants. The belief that wearing garments that hang below the ankles is prohibited during prayers only is a misconception commonly held by many Muslims. Such Muslims are unaware that the Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wasallam) forbade praying with folded clothes. Based on this prohibition, scholars have agreed that praying with folded sleeves or pants is unlawful.

No pants! And no folded cuffs either! If they intend to be good Muslims, let's make sure they follow the rules.

Gary R. Welsh said...

To your point, Downtown Indy, Jonathan Turley writes on his blog:

The world has another example of justice by extremists using Sharia law. In Mogadishu, Somalia, an Islamic court held a public ceremony where the hands and feet of weeping thieves were cut off in front of hundreds of onlookers.

The Sharia court is part of the dominant Islamic group al-Shabab. Each thief had one foot and one hand cut off with a long knife in keeping with the dictates of the Koran.
They were convicted of such crimes as stealing a cellphone.

The group is trying to replace the more moderate Sufi Islamic tradition with Wahabi Islam from our ally Saudi Arabia, which uses beheadings and amputations.