Get a load of this… More than a decade after he was captured in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban,” was in a federal court in Indiana this week seeking not his release from a federal prison in Terre Haute but the right to pray with fellow Muslim inmates several times a day. Lindh makes a plausible case that the facility is needlessly restricting his rights under federal law. (Ahem!)
For the record, we do not believe that Lindh’s “rights” under federal law are being abridged or otherwise by his predicament in Club Fed in Indiana. Lindh, a teenage convert to Islam who joined the Taliban before Sept. 11, 2001, and is reported as never waged war against Americans. However, he was apprehended on a battlefield during a fire-fight with the enemy. In other words he was captured as an enemy combatant.
Yet he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for violating a Clinton-era presidential order that prohibits providing “services” to the Taliban. Even if Lindh’s sentence weren’t excessive — and there will always be those who believe it was — he has the right to practice his religion. Under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act the law provides that the government shall not “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that doing so furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
Gee, we wonder if Elaine and Jon Huguenin’s counsel in New Mexico have considered the same perspective. Seriously we wonder what “government interest” was at stake, and has the authorities in New Mexico operated under the least restrictive circumstances? We think not.
The Communications Management Unit that houses Lindh does allow Muslim prisoners to meet for prayer every Friday and more often during Ramadan. But, citing security concerns (and the possibility that frequent Muslim prayers would mean fewer resources to accommodate other religions), the prison administration will not allow the inmates to pray in groups several times a day. The notion that group prayers would be uniquely dangerous is difficult to credit given that they may engage in other activities outside their cells between 6 a.m. and 9:15 p.m., including conversing, snacking, playing board games, watching television and playing sports.
Group recitation of daily prayers is regarded by some Muslims as a necessity and by others only as a preference. But in a preliminary ruling, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson concluded that “Mr. Lindh’s sincerely held religious beliefs require that group prayer participants are together and be able to see and hear each other.” What if he were in solitary confinement? We believe that the liberal judge presiding over this matter has completely disregarded a matter of extreme concern for us – and should be for the American public. We believe that this request through a law suit is excessive insofar as the Club Fed has already gone to other accommodations for these people and especially this person.
We furthermore believe that sacrificing one religion’s needs at the cost of others is ridiculously out of line. However none of this seems important to Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson; who otherwise has not investigated the claims by Lindh.
Group recitation of daily prayers is regarded by some Muslims as a necessity yet by others only a matter of preference. What does the Muslim religion mandate? What does Islam dictate? Group prayer sessions present security concerns, unequal distribution of facilities interests, and Judge please remember that no matter what the intensity of a person’s religious beliefs are, is this prisoner asking for extraordinary treatment?
And yes we believe he is…We beg that you remember he is in custody!