On June 18, 2009, a group of Muslim prisoners (including John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban") filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against the warden of the Federal Correctional Institute. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Indiana, asked for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the prison's allowance of only one hour of group prayer per week violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Arguments focused on Muslim tradition, which calls for five sessions of prayer of each day with group prayer being preferable over individual sessions. The plaintiffs alleged that the prison's policy of only allowing one hour of prayer per week did not serve a compelling government purpose. Furthering their belief was the living conditions of the prisoners, which allowed them to be out of their cells most of the day.
The plaintiffs moved for certification of a class consisting of all Muslim prisoners aggrieved by this policy. However, the district court (Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson) denied this motion, holding that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently define a class and, regardless, could not satisfy the numerosity requirement necessary to have class certification approved. The plaintiffs could only identify five Muslim prisoners under the warden's control whose beliefs on prayer coincided with their own.
Both parties filed motion for summary judgment, and Judge Magnus-Stinson granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs' motion, while denying the defendant's motion (2012 WL 379737). She held, as a matter of law, that "recitation of the five daily Muslim group prayers is a religious exercise rooted in Mr. Lindh's sincerely held religious beliefs," thus satisfying that requirement of RFRA. However, she deemed that there were genuine issues of material fact surrounding the issue of whether the warden substantially burdened the plaintiffs' religious practices.
Following a bench trial, the court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law (2013 WL 139699). The court issued a permanent injunction against the Federal Correctional Institute, holding that the prison's policy violated RFRA. As such, the prison was required to change its policy regarding prayer sessions without 60 days of the issuing of the order. Under the order, the prison was required to allow prisoners to have prayer sessions at any time that the prisoners would otherwise be allowed out of their cells.
The prison changed its policy to allow religious groups to pray at three assigned times per day, with no more than 10 inmates allowed in the room at any time. Feeling that the policy violated the order of the court, the plaintiffs filed a motion to hold the defendant in contempt. After the filing of the motion, the prison again changed its policy to only allow for group prayer within individual cells, with a maximum of two prisoners allowed in any cell. The plaintiffs alleged that the warden violated the express and unambiguous command of the court, and therefore must be held in contempt.
The court held that its prior ruling was not clear and unambiguous, and therefore did not hold the defendant in contempt (2013 WL 3790897). However, Judge Magnus-Stinson did further clarify her past order, declaring that "the Warden is to allow group prayer during every Muslim prayer time for which the inmates are not confined to their cells. While the Warden may place a limit on the location and number of inmates who may assemble in a single place, the limitations must be reasonable and in keeping with RFRA's requirement that they are the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest be employed. Put simply, just as inmates are free to assemble, socialize, and engage in other group activities in common, recreational areas during times they are released from their cells, so too must they be allowed to engage in group prayer in common, out-of-cell areas, which the Warden may designate in his discretion."Jonathan Forman - 07/24/2013