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Judge okays group prayers for Muslim inmates in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - John Walker Lindh, known as the "American Taliban," and other Muslims housed in an Indiana prison have the right to congregate for daily group prayer sessions, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

The decision by officials at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, to ban daily group prayers for Muslim inmates violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said.

The ruling came in a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Lindh, who was captured in Afghanistan and imprisoned in the United States after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and two other Muslim inmates.

The case was argued before Magnus-Stinson last August.

Prison officials cited security reasons for prohibiting inmates from getting together five times a day for unsupervised ritual prayer services.

But the court noted that the prisoners were not otherwise confined to their cells during these times and were permitted to engage in other group activities such as talking, watching videos and playing games.

The judge also said the prison had sophisticated audio and video surveillance equipment in place for monitoring prisoner activities.

Magnus-Stinson gave the prison warden 60 days to come up with a new policy for Muslim prayer.

Lindh, who was born in the United States, has been in prison since 2002. He pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.

Lindh is currently considered a low-security risk among the prison population, according to court documents. He is allowed to play contact sports and cards, and to watch television and movies, including Muslim videos in Arabic, the ruling said.

(Reporting by Susan Guyett; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jackie Frank)