The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedom (NCPCF) today sent a letter to the Warden of the Federal Penitentiary in Marion Illinois, where the Communication Management Unit (CMU) housing many Muslim inmates is located. The letter raised strong concerns to the apparent refusal of the Marion CMU to grant their prisoners the religious freedoms guaranteed by law and ordered by the courts. Prisoners had written to NCPCF complaining that the Marion CMU had banned group prayer, which is a required religious practice for many of the Muslim inmates, even though in Lindh v. Warden, Federal Correctional Institution Terre Haute, a court had ordered another CMU at Terre Haute Indiana to provide group prayer to the inmates. The Marion CMU was disregarding the court order for the Terre Haute CMU even though the issue was the same.
The Marion CMU inmates also complained that guards intentionally interrupted Friday Muslim sermons, cancelled religious and spiritual classes that had previously been approved and taught for several months, refused to provide Halal meals (meeting Islamic requirements) previously approved, and barred Muslim inmates from observing certain religious holidays. These are all religious rights guaranteed by law to prisoners.
CMUs are special units in several Federal prisons created after 9/11 to isolate a mostly Muslim population of inmates from contact with the outside world. There are only two CMU’s–one at Terre Haute and one at Marion. The legality of the CMUs are presently being challenged in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights entitled Aref v. Holder. In February 2012, a federal judge in John Lindh v. Warden, FCI Terre Haute, held that CMUs must provide daily group prayer to Muslim inmates. The Marion CMU is apparently ignoring this court ruling.
Stephen Downs, the Executive Director of NCPCF, said that there was no excuse for the Marion CMU to deny inmates their right to religious freedom guaranteed them by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).
“Having illegally created the CMUs for a mostly Muslim population,” Downs said, “the government can hardly complain that it is too difficult to accommodate the special religious needs of the Muslims incarcerated there. Jewish inmates routinely receive Kosher meals even if they are in the minority. Why can’t the Administration provide comparable Halal meals when Muslim prisoners are in the majority? The same is true of their need for group prayer and other demands. When the court ordered the Terre Haute CMU to permit daily group prayer, why would the Marion CMU pretend that it did not have to comply?
The CMUs are a domestic reflection of the isolation and humiliation of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Indeed the CMU’s are often referred to as “little Gitmos”. We know now that about 80 percent of the prisoners in Guantanamo were entirely innocent, and the same can probably be said of the prisoners in the CMUs. The reason for creating the CMUs was to isolate and humiliate Muslim prisoners in a manner similar to Guantanamo. This denial of religious freedom indicates that the Administration still does not understand that isolating and humiliating inmates because they are Muslim does not contribute to the security of the country. Indeed, it endangers us by creating the appearance that our country is hostile to Islam.