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American who fought with Taliban wins prayer ruling

John Walker Lindh, serving a sentence at a prison in Indiana, had sued to end a ban on daily group prayer for him and more than 40 other Muslim inmates.

January 13, 2013|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • John Walker Lindh, shown in an undated Sheriff's Department photo, left, is serving a 20-year prison sentence. Photo at right is from the record of an Islamic religious school in Pakistan that Walker Lindh attended.
John Walker Lindh, shown in an undated Sheriff's Department photo,… (Agence France-Press )

SAN FRANCISCO — John Walker Lindh, the Marin County man imprisoned for fighting with the Taliban, has won the right to have daily communal Muslim prayer in the U.S. prison unit where he is incarcerated.

An Indiana judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by Lindh, ordered a Terre Haute prison warden to end a ban on daily group prayer for Lindh and more than 40 other Muslim inmates. The judge said the ban violated a federal law that protects the religious rights of prison inmates.

Lindh, who converted to Islam while living with his family in San Anselmo, is serving a 20-year prison sentence. He was captured in Afghanistan and later pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive.

Now housed in a prison unit for inmates whose communications are closely monitored, Lindh contended that the ban on daily group prayer violated his right to practice his religion. He said he adheres to the Hanbali school of Islam, which requires five communal prayers daily.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said in her ruling Friday that Lindh was now considered a low-risk inmate and had committed only minor, nonviolent infractions. Prisoners in his closely monitored unit are permitted to be out of their cells most of the day and can play cards, watch television and exercise, the judge said.

"While no disruptive episodes have occurred in the [unit] as a result of small group prayers, a fight has occurred over a remote control and one has occurred when the victim was reading," the judge said.

Lindh's prison infractions have included speaking Arabic to another inmate, participating in an unauthorized prayer meeting and ignoring an order to unfold his pants leg because he said that Islam prohibited wearing pants below the ankles, according to the judge's ruling.

Lindh is expected to be released in 2019.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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