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Goninan v. Holmes

United States District Court, D. Oregon

December 4, 2014



PAUL PAPAK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff pro se Nathan Goninan filed this action against defendants Dennis Holmes, Tim Cayton, and Gmy Sims on August 28, 2012. By and through his complaint, Goninan alleges the defendants' liability for violation of his First Amendment right to reasonable accommodation of his religious beliefs, violation of his Fourteenth Amendment Right to equal protection, and violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. This court has federal-question jurisdiction over Goninan's claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331.

Now before the court is defendants Holmes, Cayton, and Sim's motion for summary judgment (#28). I have considered the motion and all of the papers and pleadings on file. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted and Goninan's claims are dismissed.


Goninan is an incarcerated person who has been intermittently housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary ("OSP") under the Oregon Department of Corrections ("ODOC") since December 27, 2007. Goninan identifies himself as a practicing Satanist.

Early in his sentence, Goninan requested The Satanic Bible from ODOC personnel.[1] In February 2009, after some correspondence with OSP chaplains, ODOC denied Goninan's request for The Satanic Bible. In a letter outlining the reasons for the denial, ODOC Assistant Director of Transitional Services Ginger Marth stated the following:

The Satanic Bible ... promotes acts of vengeance, self-indulgence, and self-gratification. [It] encourages its readers to engage in actual and symbolic acts of violence against one's enemies, to prey upon the weak, to conduct violent rituals, and to reject authority. Such behaviors have absolutely no place in a prison environment and pose a significant threat to the maintenance of institutional safety, security, and order. Furthermore, the values and acts espoused in The Satanic Bible are completely inconsistent with the Department's fundamental goals of inmate rehabilitation and the pursuit of a nonviolent, law-abiding life.

Dec. of Dennis Holmes, Att. 2, #32.

In December 2009, Goninan filed a grievance expressing his belief that ODOC has a policy of purchasing religious books only for inmates who practice mainstream religions, and attacking ODOC's failure to apply that alleged policy to Satanists.

In January 2010, Goninan wrote to defendant Dennis Holmes and requested that The Satanic Bible as well as other Satanic literature be provided to him free of charge. He was informed by ODOC personnel that it is not the policy of ODOC to purchase religious literature for inmates. Instead, ODOC relies on donated literary materials from community interests to support their collections. Defendant Dennis Holmes offered to contact a satanic organization to determine if they would donate any requested authorized material to OSP.

In April 2010, Goninan submitted another request, this time seeking a yarmulke and a kosher diet in support of his Jewish faith. Goninan was consulted by ODOC personnel seeking to clarify his faith and Goninan denounced Satanism in favor of Judaism. Goninan's dietary accommodation requests were granted in June 2010. Goninan has since clarified this issue, explaining that his experimentation with other religions led to his renewed faith in Satanism. Goninan cites to his satanic facial tattoos to prove the sincerity of his beliefs.

In January 2011, Goninan filed a second grievance requesting that ODOC purchase three texts by Satanist author Anton LaVey; The Satanic Bible, The Satanic Rituals, and The Satanic Witch. That grievance was denied because Goninan had grieved the same issues in his December 2009 grievance. Goninan repeated this grievance in June 2011, and additionally requested ODOC's religious services to provide free satanic literature for inmates. That grievance was also denied as redundant.

In October 2011, Goninan again requested The Satanic Bible and other satanic materials. He submitted that grievance and a grievance appeal to "the boss of" the grievance coordinator, contending that the grievance coordinator violated ODOC's grievance procedures in returning his June 2011 grievance. That grievance was ultimately returned to Goninan because of ODOC's policy disallowing grievance appeals.

In January 2012, Goninan prepared an extended grievance appeal which rested on alleged religious discrimination by ODOC, arising from the fact that other inmates are allowed to possess the primary literature of their chosen religions, yet Satanists are barred from doing so. Goninan posed the following question:

... [W]hy can a poor Christian [inmate] get a free bible, a poor jew get a Torah, or a poor muslim a Qu'ran? And so on. I have a right to be treated equally in my religion. So given all of this, tell me why I can't have The Satanic Bible or [The] Satanic Rituals when other religions can have theirs.

Dec. of Dennis Holmes, Att. 6, #32 (corrections throughout). Goninan pointed to violent themes contained in other, authorized scripture to support an argument for the authorization of The Satanic Bible and other satanic literature. Goninan further posited that, while radical Satanists indeed exist, there are similar radical followers of other religions. In response, ODOC personnel informed Goninan that The Satanic Bible was still unauthorized literature, but informed Goninan of three other authorized pieces of satanic religious literature available to him in the prison library. Shortly after submitting that complaint, Goninan penned a series of letters to ODOC officials arguing approximately the same points.

In February 2012, Goninan was contacted regarding his grievance and letters by defendant Gary Sims, Administrator of Religious Services at ODOC. Sims repeated the reasons for denial of Goninan's request and asserted that ODOC still disapproves The Satanic Bible and other texts as allowable inmate property. Sims informed Goninan once again of alternative approved satanic literature, including Satan Speaks, The Devil's Notebook, and the Necronomicon, which Holmes identified as predominant pieces of literature in the field of Satanism. Sims also informed Goninan of approved satanic ritual items, including a pendant, chain medallions, and satanic altar cloths. Sims outlined and advised Goninan on the procedures to obtain all of these items.

Later that month, Goninan prepared a response simply requesting ODOC's reasoning for the repeated disapproval of his request. While he essentially restated his earlier grievances, he additionally asserted that "I cannot practice my religion meaningfully without The Satanic Bible or Book of Satanic Rituals [, ] those me the most important books to my religion and I need them." Dec. of Dennis Holmes, Att. 6, #32, 11. He further stated that "no one in all of ODOC [has] given me a reason why I can't have those books other than [they're] not allowed. But tell me in detail why not." Id. In response, Ginger Marth stated the following:

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RUIPA) [sic] of 2000 is the federal law the department is required to follow in making decisions regarding religious issues involving our prisons. This law requires that department officials individually review any Satanic literature or item requested by an inmate. The department's policy decision to not allow the Satanic Bible is based on a thorough reading of the publication and the department's judgment that specific writings in the book promote or advocate revenge and retribution by inmates and pose[] a ...

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