Prayer in Prison

October 4, 2012

John Walker Lindh, the American citizen and convert to Islam, arrested in Afghanistan accused of fighting with the Taliban, is part of a lawsuit against the Federal Correctional Institution where he is imprisoned. Lindh alleges that the prison is violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by interfering with their right to participate in group prayers on a daily basis, as they perceive is required by their faith. You can find the docket on Westlaw using the following party names or docket number:

ARNAOUT ET AL v. WARDEN,  2:09-CV-00215

This simple search on WestlawNext delivers excellent case law and secondary sources on this topic (see results below):



Another great strategy for this research involves reviewing the Notes of Decisions at the First Amendment itself.  Paste this in as our citation:

USCA Constitution Amendment I-Religion.

After pulling up the Amendment and clicking on the “Notes of Decisions,” find the category for “Prisons.” Clicking on the link to that category pulls up an extensive list of notes of decisions, broken up by sub-topics such as Negligence, Belief and Conduct Distinguished, Legitimacy of Religion, Accommodation of Practice, Factors determining validity of regulations, etc.


CASE LAW – Our first few case results from the query referenced above include the following:

Weir v. Nix, 114 F.3d 817 (8th Cir. 1997) – Case holding that prison “officials did not place “substantial burden” on inmate’s rights by failing to provide spiritual advisor who shared inmate’s separatist beliefs, limiting inmates to three hours of group worship in chapel per week, holding religious services for protective custody inmates on Fridays as opposed to Sundays, allowing inmate to have at most 25 books at one time in his cell, and prohibiting personal property, including Bibles, in prison yard.”

Mayfield v. Texas Dept. Of Criminal Justice, 529 F.3d 599 (5th Cir. 2008) – Case about a prisoner who brought claims against prison officials alleging violations of section 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act for not allowing Odinist religious services or assembly without an outside volunteer, for banning rune literature from the prison library, and for not allowing prisoners to personally possess runestones.

Hamilton v. Schriro, 74 F.3d 1545 (8th Cir. 1996) – Case holding that prison officials did not violate the religious freedom of a Native American inmate when they denied him access to a sweat lodge, and by enforcing inmate hair length regulations.

SECONDARY SOURCES – I also found these documents from our search:

63 Am. Jur. Proof of Facts 3d 195 (Originally published in 2001) – An article containing a great, comprehensive section on Religious practices in correctional institutions.

135 Validity, construction, and application of Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000bb et seq.) 135 A.L.R. Fed. 121 (Originally published in 1996) – An ALR article discussing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and prisoner rights.

Derek L. Gaubatz, Rluipa at Four: Evaluating the Success and Constitutionality of Rluipa’s Prisoner Provisions, 28 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 501 (2005) – A law review article discussing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).