Federal Bureau of Prisons Loosens Restrictions on Muslim Inmates’ Prayer

Layers of razor wire surround a prison. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has issued new national guidelines recommending accommodation of group prayer for Muslim prisoners after an inmate’s lawsuit challenging restrictions at a Kentucky prison.

The agency has recommended that all federal prisons should accommodate inmates’ requests for Muslim congregational prayer services unless there is a security concern, after the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates appealed a court decision upholding a federal prison’s right to limit such services to three people.

“This new group prayer guidance sends a clear signal to all prisons that the right to pray should not be denied, regardless of faith,” said Matt Callahan, staff attorney for Muslim Advocates. “Unfortunately, we believe many of the 142 federal prisons are likely ignoring their obligation to ensure the right to pray at their facilities.”

Last year, Muslim inmate William Doyle sued United States Penitentiary McCreary, a high-security federal prison for male inmates in Kentucky, for restricting congregational prayer to groups of three prisoners or fewer and requiring these groups to request staff permission before praying.

Doyle claimed this policy was only enforced against Muslims and that the prison allowed other, nonreligious activities in larger groups. The district court dismissed Doyle’s suit, which claimed religious freedom violations by the prison.

After Muslim Advocates represented Doyle in his March appeal of the district court’s decision, the prison revoked its policy.

According to Muslim Advocates, the Bureau of Prisons also revised its recommendations on Muslim group prayer, which are sent to all federal prisons in its Religious Beliefs and Practices manual.

The new guidelines replace previous recommendations limiting group prayer to two or three inmates, which McCreary had been following.

Instead, the agency said, inmates’ requests for group prayer should be handled just like all requests for group activities: Staff should accommodate all group prayer requests unless they would jeopardize the facility’s security or order.

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Source: Religion News Service