Cathedral of the Pines:
From inclusiveness to intolerance,
and finally to exclusivism
||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/
||Throughout this essay, references to WADL, a Neopagan education
group, have been replaced by The Alternative Religions Educational Network (AREN),
WADL's successor organization.
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.
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
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:
||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;
||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;
||A copy of Public Law 100-606, popularly referred to as the "Genocide
Convention Implementation Act of 1987" ("the Proxmire Act");
||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;
||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.
president of the statewide Interfaith Council of Washington;
||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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
||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.
||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.
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
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."
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.
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.
* We have withheld the name of the official because of threat
of legal action.
- Diane Des Rochers, "The Farmer, a Mule and a Two-by four: An Update on
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.
- Jim Finnegan, "The Pagans Are Peeved", Editorial, Manchester (NH) Union
- Katharine Webster, "Nondenominational cathedral agrees witches may worship",
Associated Press, 1997-MAR-3
- The Cathedral of the Pines' mailing address is: Cathedral of the Pines
Foundation, 75 Cathedral Entrance, Rindge, NH 03461. Contributions are tax
the US. Their official web site is at: http://cathedralpines.com/ Their Email address is [email protected]
- Private Email to the OCRT.
Copyright © 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-FEB-20
Author: B.A. Robinson