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RAMIREZ v. COUGHLIN

February 2, 1996

ALFREDO RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, and REV. DR. EARL B. MOORE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SMITH

REPORT-RECOMMENDATION

 This pro se civil rights action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, was referred to the undersigned for report and recommendation by the Honorable Con. G. Cholakis by Standing Order dated August 2, 1985. Presently before the court are Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment.

 Parties

 Plaintiff in this action is an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (hereinafter "DOCS"), defendant Coughlin is the former Commissioner of DOCS, and defendant Moore is the Assistant Commissioner for Ministerial and Family Services of DOCS.

 Facts

 In his complaint, plaintiff, who describes himself as a Satanist and a member of the Church of Satan, claims that he has been denied the right to freely exercise his religious beliefs while in prison. *fn1" In addition, plaintiff claims that defendants refuse to recognize Satanism as a bona fide religion, and refuse to allow him to possess various items, such as a three inch metal bell, which are required to perform rituals central to his religion.

 As plaintiff is appearing in this action pro se, it is somewhat difficult to decipher his claims. However, various documents which plaintiff has submitted in support of his motion for summary judgment, and in opposition to defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment, indicate that the complaint is based in large part on the following events:

 (1) On June 12, 1991, the Central Office Review Committee of DOCS (hereinafter "CORC"), issued an opinion with regard to Grievance No. SS-14059-91 (this opinion is hereinafter referred to as "Grievance #SS-14059-91"). Grievance #SS-14059-91 provides, in pertinent part:

 
Further, CORC has been advised by the Division of Ministerial Services that any paraphernalia openly depicting Satanism would be considered to be a threat to the safety, security and good order of the facility, since it could provoke a violent confrontation between inmates. *fn2"

 (2) On December 21, 1991, defendant Coughlin wrote a letter to George Wurster of Prisoners' Legal Services. This letter provides, in pertinent part:

 
This is in response to your letter dated November 26, 1991, regarding Mr. Alfredo Ramirez, #89-T-3513 [sic], and his practice of satanism, specifically, his wearing of a satanic metal [sic] and the issuance of a religious certificate denoting satanism as his religion.
 
Please be advised it is the policy of this Department that any paraphernalia openly depicting satanism is to be considered a threat to the safety, security and good order of the facility, since it could provoke a violent confrontation between inmates. *fn3"

 (3) On February 17, 1994, plaintiff filed Grievance No. GM-21145-94. In this grievance, plaintiff requested that he be permitted possess various items which he claims are required to perform rituals central to his religion.

 (5) On April 13, 1994, CORC issued an opinion with regard to Grievance No. GM-21145-94 (this opinion is hereinafter referred to as "Grievance #GM-21145-94"). Grievance #GM-21145-94 provides, in pertinent part:

 
CORC sustains the Superintendent, i.e.:
 
Grievant is advised that Directive #4202 allows no provision for Satanism to be recognized as a bona fide religion, and its symbols may be construed by staff and other inmates as inflammatory, which would be inconsistent with Departmental interests and to the good running order of the facility.
 
In view of the aforementioned, grievant's requested action is denied.
 
* * * *
 
Further, CORC cites its prior disposition in SS-14059-91 dated 6/12/91 which states, in part, i.e.:
 
Further, CORC has been advised by the Division of Ministerial Services that any paraphernalia openly depicting Satanism would be considered to be a threat to the safety, security and good order of the facility, since it could provoke a violent confrontation between inmates. *fn4"

 (6) On April 20, 1994, CORC issued an opinion with regard to Grievance No. ORL-7674-94 (this opinion is hereinafter referred to as "Grievance #ORL-7674-94"). Grievance #ORL-7674-94 provides, in pertinent part:

 
CORC asserts that the Director of Family and Ministerial Services does not have the authorization to amend the CORC disposition in SS-14059-91. Further, the grievant has not provided sufficient information to warrant further review of SS-14059-91.
 
CORC was advised that the grievant's designated religion has been changed in the department records to Satanism as requested by the grievant. However, CORC was informed that the grievant's request for recognition of a religious body or church is ...

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