John Walker Lindh, an American given a twenty-year prison sentence for fighting with the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan, won the right to daily group prayer in the Indiana Prison he now resides in.
The majority of Muslims attend mosque on Friday for group prayer, as well as on certain holy days, and pray alone or with their family on other days. The prison Lindh resides in accommodated this belief, allowing group prayer on certain holy days and every Friday. But Lindh subscribes to a conservative Hanabli interpretation of Muslim law, which requires him to pray daily with other Muslims. The prison refused to allow this, citing “security concerns”.
Prison officials also testified that “Muslims, who make up the majority of inmates in the unit, have operated like a gang under the guise of religious activity.”
The concern that prisoners could exploit religious freedom laws without truly believing in a religion is not an uncommon one. But if we’re going to be judging the extent of Lindh’s commitment to his religious beliefs, I’d say committing treason is a pretty good indicator of sincerity. Its also hard to believe that allowing people to pray as a group daily – in a prison that already allows other forms of group activities – would be a legitimate security risk. After all, terrorists don’t have super powers. Prisoner interactions always should be supervised, both for the safety of the prison guards and prisoners, but that doesn’t mean that prisoners don’t deserve basic religious freedoms – and freedom to worship God as one chooses is pretty basic.