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Religious Tolerance logo

Cathedral of the Pines:

From inclusiveness to intolerance,
and finally to exclusivism

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bullet This is an essay about the history of religious tolerance exhibited by the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge NH. If you are interested in visiting the Cathedral and are interested in its location, services and events, please consult their official web site at: http://cathedralpines.com/
bullet Throughout this essay, references to WADL, a Neopagan education group, have been replaced by The Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN), WADL's successor organization.

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The parents Lt. Sanderson Sloane, placed their scenic parcel of land near Rindge, NH into a private trust, as a memorial to their son who was killed in World War II. It was later converted into a non-profit private foundation, called the Cathedral of the Pines. It offers a spectacular panoramic view of New Hampshire's Monadnock mountains. According to some of the Cathedral literature it is "...a place of spiritual nourishment for people of all faiths and a national memorial to patriotic sacrifice....In 1957, by unanimous vote, the Congress of the United States recognized the [Cathedral's] Altar of the Nation as a national memorial to all American war dead." The altar is built from stones from every state in the union and soil from each country where Americans fought. Many groups, including members of the Baha'i Faith, Hindus, and Quakers have held services there. So have many non-religious groups, including the Alcoholics Anonymous, American Legion, the Boy Scouts of America, the Masonic Order, National Grange, Rosicrucians (a non-religious metaphysical order), etc. It has been in business for 50 years and receives about 100,000 visitors a year.

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The initial event exhibiting religious intolerance:

In 1995-APR Diane DesRochers, New England Regional Director for AREN, and High Priestess of the Temple of AppleMoon Coven and Teaching Grove, Inc. of Groton MA asked to schedule a handfasting ceremony at the site. This is similar in the Wiccan religion to marriage in other faiths. Permission was rejected on the basis that the Cathedral believed that their religion, Wicca, was not recognized as a religion by other mainstream faith groups.

Ms. DesRochers wrote the Cathedral, formally requesting their reasons for being denied rental of the facility. The Cathedral responded by mailing her a copy of a page from their operating manual. It stated that "...services of worship, etc., must be conducted by clergy who are graduates of an accredited school of theology with at least a Master's level degree and who are ordained in a recognized religious process." This requirement seemed unduly restrictive, excluding many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical pastors who often only hold a diploma from a Bible school. It would also exclude Buddhist and Hindu priests, Native American elders, etc. Quakers, who have no clergy, would also presumably be refused access -- which indeed was hardly the case!

An officer of the Cathedral* had labeled Wiccans and Pagans a "Godless lot" who were trying to make a mockery of the Cathedral and of "Almighty God." He has since denied making such a statement. 5 In an attempt to dissipate any stereotypical misapprehensions they might have had, AREN-New England, along with other area Wiccans and in collaboration with Art Ketchen of Nashua, NH, president of First Amendment Legal Defense Fund: Citizens Against Censorship, invited the Cathedral's executive director and trustees, along with other area clergy, to attend a town meeting where they could address all their concerns in open dialogue. The hope was that, by witnessing a Bardic Circle, they might be impressed with the beauty of the music and rituals. They might also understand more accurately the beliefs and practices of the Witches. Media representatives, one Quaker, several Unitarians and many Neo-Pagans came to the meeting, but the Cathedral trustees and executive director declined to attend.

In order to show that Wiccans were indeed recognized by other faiths and by the federal and state governments as well, AREN submitted:
bullet The Department of the Army's "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Religions: A Handbook Supplement for Chaplains, compiled by Dr. Gordon Melton, a Methodist minister and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions. This book contains a chapter on Wicca;
bullet A letter from Dr. Melton, giving a brief description and history of the rise of the Craft in this country and his acknowledgment of Wicca as a legitimate spiritual path;
bullet A copy of Public Law 100-606, popularly referred to as the "Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987" ("the Proxmire Act");
bullet A copy of programs and schedules from the 1993 Parliament of World Religions to which elders in the Wiccan and Neo-Pagan Community were invited. Notable among the groups offering presentations were Circle Sanctuary with Selena Fox, Covenant of the Goddess, and EarthSpirit with Andras & Dierdre Corbin;
bullet A letter from Pete "Pathfinder" Davis, a Witch, who is founder and arch priest of Aquarian Tabernacle Church which has chartered covens throughout the United States. He is president of the statewide Interfaith Council of Washington;
bullet A copy of a letter from the office of the MA secretary of state, acknowledging Temple of AppleMoon Coven & Teaching Grove, Inc. as a non-profit religious organization and Ms. DesRochers as a recognized clergyperson authorized to perform legally binding marriages.

The Manchester Union Leader, a nationally know regional paper, in an amazing display of religious intolerance and ignorance, blasted Ms. DesRochers in particular and all Witches and Pagans in general. In an apparent reference to Wiccans, followers of Native Spirituality, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., the editor stated that "...Pagans, people who are neither Christians nor Muslims nor Jews and who indeed have no religion, obviously have a right to conduct their heathen ceremonies. But they have no right to mock people of religious faith by conducting them in houses of God...Is this discrimination? Sure, but not in the invidious sense of depriving witches of some legitimate right, such as the right to venerate and worship syzygies or kumquats." [A syzygy is an astronomical term which refers to orbiting bodies; when used to refer to the moon, it would define the times of new and full moons. Wiccans do not worship the time of the new and full moon; they simply conduct their rituals at those times. A kumquat is an edible fruit.] Shortly after the editorial was printed - after the paper had been deluged by outraged callers and letter-writers - its author took early retirement.

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Involvement of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights:

An apparent breakthrough occurred in March of 1996 when a meeting was held involving New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights investigator Katherine Daly. Also present were Diane DesRochers, acting for  AREN-New England, and Gretchen Ziegler, a Cathedral representative, accompanied by their lawyer. The Cathedral made a compromise offer that would allow access by Wiccans and other Pagans to the site. They didn't want Wiccans using their consecrated areas, like the Altar of the Nation, but were willing to give them a choice of several undeveloped sites on Cathedral property which local Pagans could then clear and consecrate for themselves. Several weeks later, Katherine sent both sides first-draft copies of a formal agreement for study and comment. Willing also to compromise, AREN-New England's objections were few and minor, such as asking them to refer in the agreement to "Witches, Pagans and other Earth-centered religions" rather than just "Witches and Pagans."

But then, in another complete about-face, the Cathedral's trustees voted to continue refusing any access at all, hoping to legalize their decision by changing their by-laws and reincorporating as a religious organization. They argued that the memorial was founded upon a belief in "God Almighty" and they alone would decide which religions could worship there. An official* of the Cathedral later told a reporter for the Manchester Union Leader that under their new charter they would, from now on, only be granting access to those who "worship the god of Abraham." This would presumably include Jews, Christians, Muslims and followers of the Baha'i faith - but few others! Followers of Buddhism, Deism, Hinduism, Jainism, Santeria, Shinto, Taoism, Vodun, Unitarian Universalists, Zoroastrianism, and hundreds of other religious would be excluded. By taking this action, the trustees converted their "national memorial to all American war dead" to a memorial only to those soldiers who died in battle who happened to follow an Abrahamic religion -- one which reveres Abraham as a patriarch. 

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Preliminary finding of the Human Rights Commission:

On 1996-SEP-23, one of the Human Rights Commissioners issued a preliminary finding. They concluded that the cathedral was a war memorial open to the public, not a church, and could not legally discriminate against Wiccans and Pagans. Letters were sent to both parties, instructing each to submit suggestions for an acceptable agreement. The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union waited in the background, prepared to resolve the matter in court if necessary. EREN's response was essentially the same as suggested in the Commission's original agreement. The Cathedral suggested Ms. DesRochers drop all charges!

A Unitarian Universalist minister living in nearby Peterboro, NH published an open letter to the Cathedral in a local newspaper, The Monadnock Ledger. In it, he asked the trustees to remove his name from their list of participating clergy, announcing that, so long as they pursued their discriminatory policies, he would no longer officiate at any Cathedral ceremonies. According to an Associated Press article, a Boston College professor had also told Cathedral trustees, unless they reopened their doors to ALL religions once more, he was demanding return of his father's portrait and Congressional Medal of Honor which he had donated to their war memorial museum.

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Policy reversal by the Cathedral:

Bending to this and similar pressure from a number of outraged citizens, Cathedral trustees finally decided to return to the intent of the original incorporation, allowing equal access to Cathedral facilities for persons of ALL faiths, including Earth-centered religions! Less than a month before the final hearing date of 1997-MAR-4, set by the Commission, Cathedral trustees suddenly and unexpectedly announced to the Human Rights Commission that they were backing away from their previous exclusive stance. They also confided to Katherine Daly, that plans were in the works to host "an interfaith educational conference."

A public signing of agreement papers was held on Tuesday, 1997-MAR-4 at the Nashua (NH) City Hall Auditorium with Members of the media present. The signing was amicable - the best of all possible outcomes. Diane DesRochers, speaking for AREN-New England, offered whatever volunteer help she could muster to the planning, publicity and execution of the Cathedral's proposed interfaith conference. She also announced that AREN-New England would in turn be hosting a memorial gathering at the Cathedral on the weekend after Memorial Day (USA) in 1997 to remember Wiccans, other Neo-pagans and followers of other Earth-Centered religions who have served in the armed forces of their respective nations.

William "Chip" Strickland, the Cathedral's lawyer, said "The cathedral will be open to people of all faiths." Diane DesRochers, of AREN-New England and High Priestess of AppleMoon Coven in Groton, MA, said that the decision of the cathedral's trustees was "...extremely appropriate...It is agreeing to allow us equal access with all other faiths."

Not everyone was happy with the decision to admit all faiths to the cathedral. Rev. Benjamin Swan, pastor of the Monadnock Full Gospel Church in Rindge, said allowing Witches "...is so openly just against Christian values, against family values. It's a very sad thing."

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Excerpts from the Settlement Agreement:

The New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, Cathedral of the Pines Foundation and Ms. Diane DesRochers signed a NHCHR settlement agreement PAR 5596-95. Key sections are:
bullet 4b: The Cathedral will assure access to the Cathedral, for individual and corporate worship to members of the Wicca Religion, as well as other religions, subject to reasonable fees, the rules of the Cathedral, and the public laws. The Cathedral's fees and rules shall be applied without regard to the religion of any party or group seeking access to the Cathedral.
bullet 5b(i): Both parties acknowledge and agree that...Those Wiccans and neo-Pagans who are to conduct services at the Cathedral, whether public or private, must be recognized as qualified clergy or the equivalent thereof under the standards of their faith and any applicable state law.

The Cathedral's Board issued a statement at the time that the agreement was signed. It said in part:

"We, the Board of Trustees of Cathedral of the Pines Foundation, reaffirm our founding principle stating that Cathedral of the Pines shall be 'a place where all people may worship without regard to religious denomination'. We want the Cathedral to be a place where we all act according to the ideals that define us as a nation. Further, we want the Cathedral to be a place that celebrates the values we all share in common, that allows us to accept differences and that promotes a community whose members strive to understand and respect one another.

Finally, we want to express two hopes. The first is that the community we serve will understand why we have taken this position and will support us. The second is that this community forgive us for our role in generating a discussion which included too many sparks of hatred and misunderstanding. Those of our words and actions that contributed to this result are not worthy of a place with the ideals which we represent.

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AREN Memorial Circle

The Alternative Religions Education Network-New England (AREN-New England) organized a "Memorial Circle to Remember Witches and Pagans as well as followers of other Earth-centered spiritual paths who have stood in military service to their homelands." It was planned for Sunday, 1998-MAY-31 at the Cathedral of the Pines, NH, but had to be delayed, until AUG-2 because of extreme weather conditions. Diane DesRochers, New England Regional Director for AREN toured the Cathedral's facilities with Bill Sloane, chairman of their board of trustees, in order to choose the best location for the memorial Circle. They jointly agreed to create on the Cathedral grounds "a wild place, a grove where wildflowers and herbs could grow in a natural setting, a place where visitors could walk a pathway among them in silent meditation."

Ms. DesRochers commented: "The site for the grove has been chosen. It is close to the main parking area, just off a paved pathway and will be handicap accessible. No trees will need to be felled, there already is a natural open area where we will be creating a small labyrinth in the shape of the Tao symbol. A pathway, marked out in stones will meander through the grove, converging on the Tao labyrinth. Wildflowers and herbs will be planted throughout the grove area."

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Reversion to Judeo-Christian exclusivity:

A visitor to this website sent us an update on the status of the Cathedral of the Pines. It seems that the massive ice storm of 2008-DEC destroyed most of the trees, leaving it no longer a natural cathedral. The Wiccan site was bulldozed and no longer exists.

The Cathedral of the Pines is now a more formal garden type amphitheatre with mainly Judeo-Christian symbols and monuments. In the spring of 2009. our visitor reported that:

"... the Good Karma faith flags posted in the inside worship area were obscured and a Hindu painting once ordaining the area has been removed."

Sadly, a once innovative natural cathedral recognizing the sacrifice of soldiers of all religions has reverted to a display observing only the sacrifices of Judeo-Christian military. Pity. Such a lost opportunity.

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Author's comment:

The Cathedral started out as a noble concept: a spiritual place where persons and groups of all religious faiths could come together. It mirrored warfare itself: an environment in which soldiers of all faiths fought together against a common enemy. Shrapnel, bullets and high explosives killed Baptists and Wiccans, Atheists and Episcopalians, Buddhists and Lutherans without first inquiring of their religion. This Cathedral was intended to be a memorial to all. To have denied representatives of non-Abrahamic faiths access to this memorial is to devalue their fellow worshippers' supreme sacrifice. They also died so that others might live freely. Religious freedom is one of the most important freedoms that we enjoy. The trustees' initial decisions were profoundly disrespectful of the religious diversity of the American people. It is encouraging that, under threat of a lawsuit and pressure from persons of many religions, they decided to restore the original inclusive nature of the Cathedral. It is sad that they have largely reverted to their original policy.

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* We have withheld the name of the official because of threat of legal action.

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  1. Diane Des Rochers, "The Farmer, a Mule and a Two-by four: An Update on AREN's Battle Against the Pagan-Phobic Discriminatory Policies of Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, NH, Witches' Anti-Discrimination League, P.O. Box 384, Groton, MA 01450-0384.
  2. Jim Finnegan, "The Pagans Are Peeved", Editorial, Manchester (NH) Union Leader, 1995-JUN-29
  3. Katharine Webster, "Nondenominational cathedral agrees witches may worship", Associated Press, 1997-MAR-3
  4. The Cathedral of the Pines' mailing address is: Cathedral of the Pines Foundation, 75 Cathedral Entrance, Rindge, NH 03461. Contributions are tax deductible in the US. Their official web site is at: http://cathedralpines.com/ Their Email address is info@cathedralpines.com
  5. Private Email to the OCRT.

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Copyright 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-FEB-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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