The ramifications of the Florida Masonic religious ban reach far beyond the borders of Florida which we will point out momentarily. But first it is worthy to note that other gross violations of Masonic conduct by Florida Brethren have existed for years without any disapproval or reprimand outside the Sunshine State.
For years I have heard of stories of how African American Mainstream Masons from New York (and elsewhere) who were snowbirds spending 6 months of their year in Florida were treated. The Beehive has recently consulted with three Florida Past Masters to verify this practice and ask if it was still in force.
When a “Black Man” appeared at a Florida Lodge for visitation carrying fully accredited papers and knowledge from another Mainstream jurisdiction, the Florida Lodge would refuse to open or if already opened would immediately close. The “Black Man” would then be admitted inside the Lodge room where some explanation for this procedure would be offered by the Master, such as the candidate failed to show up tonight so we have cancelled the degree work. Then a Past Master would rise to give a Masonic education lecture. The Lodge remained closed as long as the “Black Man” remained in the building. The information I have received and verified through three Florida Past Masters is still going on and is the unwritten policy of the Grand Lodge that no man of color ever be allowed into a Florida Mainstream tyled Communication, certified Mainstream Master Mason or not.
To the best knowledge of this author no Grand Lodge or Grand Master in the rest of the American jurisdictions has ever publicly scolded or criticized this Florida practice even though it is widely known to be going on.
So what hope do we have that any other jurisdiction will take any action against Florida’s latest religious ban? But they should.
Suppose you are a Vermont Freemason and a Wiccan who wants to visit a Florida Lodge while on vacation. Chances are good that you will be denied admission. Suppose that you are a Vermont Freemason and your job transfers you to Florida. So you join your new Grand Lodge and demit from your old one. You happen to be an Odinist ignorant of the recent Florida religious ruling. Now the Grand Lodge of Florida will expel you and under the good old boys mutual agreement to honor all things another jurisdiction does, Vermont will not let you be reinstated there. You are now on the outside looking in.
But how will Florida know what your religion is, you ask? That’s easy. The good old boys network has established the rule in most American Grand Lodges that before embarking outside your jurisdiction you must first receive the permission from your Grand Lodge who will contact the Jurisdiction you are going to for you. Now when it happens that you are going to a regressive, tyrannical regime like Florida, West Virginia, Arkansas and others the Grand Secretary there will ask the visiting Brothers skin color and his religion. If you think Freemasonry is Universal, think again. Maybe in other parts of the world but not here.
While Grand Masters across the nation may be keeping their mouths shut rank and file Brethren are not. Some objectors have set up a Masonic Landmark Restoration Community Facebook Page – and here is a letter being circulated from that site that pretty much explains the problem:
On November 28, 2012, the Grand Master of Florida, the Most Worshipful Grand Master Jorge Aladro issued a Ruling and Decree stating that participation in alternative religious belief systems, “primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism” were not compatible with Freemasonry.
This ruling, known as Ruling and Decision No. 3, further states that any Freemason “that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks”.
As Freemasons, we are not defined by our religious or spiritual practices; rather, we are defined by our character and our work. While spiritual beliefs may augment or act as a catalyst in our path as men and Freemasons, it is ultimately an inner voice that guides us on our quest towards improvement and self mastery. That inner voice is an expression of the Divine, which we, as Freemasons, recognize and accept as such. Without belief we can never be Freemasons, as our very institution demands it in both written and spoken word. As Dr. Mackey stated so eloquently in the NINETEENTH Landmark;
“A belief in the existence of God as the GRAND ARCHITECT of the universe, is one of the most important Landmarks of the Order. It has been always deemed essential that a denial of the existence of a Supreme and Superintending Power, is an absolute disqualification for initiation. The annals of the Order never yet have furnished or could furnish an instance in which an avowed atheist was ever made a Mason. The very Initiatory ceremonies of the first degree forbid and prevent the possibility of so monstrous an occurrence.”
We also recognize that God has many names and is worshiped in many ways. The Masonic Institution is not a religion; however, it expects each Brother to follow his own faith. Furthermore, the Masonic Institution imparts that the method of worship is sacred to each individual and ought never be judged or constrained by others, most especially a Brother Mason. Finally, belief in God ought never be confused with methods of worship. The religions and spiritual practices identified as “incompatible with Freemasonry” in Ruling and Decision No. 3 all demand belief in a Supreme Power; which in turn satisfies this most important Landmark.
At this point, you may be asking why a Freemason from the Grand Lodge of Vermont is so concerned with the affairs of another Grand Lodge. There are a number of reasons for this and I would like to outline some of them here:
– In the “Ceremony of Recognition of the Flag” we are reminded that we “worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience” because of the freedoms accorded to us, which are exemplified by our National Colors. Ruling and Decision No. 3 violates the Masonic spirit of religious tolerance as it’s celebrated in this Ceremony. If left unchallenged, this poses a moral dilemma for all established Free and Accepted Masonic Lodges in the United States. This country was founded on religious freedom and many of the builders of our country were Freemasons who understood firsthand the tyranny of religious preferences.
– In the Middle Chamber Lecture, we are taught about the universality of Masonry. We may have jurisdictional boundaries, but we are all Brothers nonetheless. Therefore, when we see that a Brother is in distress, it is our duty to help. At least two Florida Freemasons have, with great reluctance and deep regret, turned in their dues cards and resigned from Masonry by Order of the Grand Master of Florida, in accordance with Ruling and Decision No. 3. Theirs is a deep sense of abandonment and sadness after having successfully petitioned for admission; been accepted by unanimous ballot; and been regularly initiated into our Fraternity. They not only passed the requirements as specified in the NINETEENTH Landmark; they were also open when pressed on their religious and spiritual pursuits, despite the fact that established protocols dealing with religious tolerance prohibited that type of questioning. These distressed Brothers are blameless and have been unjustly removed from a fraternity that they still desire to remain a part of.
– Vermont Brethren are guaranteed by the FOURTEENTH Landmark the right to sit in all regular Lodges when sojourning out of State. For any Vermont Brother who subscribes to any of the prohibited religions or beliefs, he may find himself turned away from Lodges that fall under the Jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Florida. This also jeopardizes relocating Brothers with similarly prohibited religious or spiritual beliefs. Though they may have dedicated their lives in service to the Craft in Vermont; they will have their petitions rejected by the Grand Lodge of Florida for their “incompatible” religious beliefs.
The TWENTY-FIFTH Landmark of Freemasonry demands that ALL Masonic Landmarks remain inviolate; that no one may add, subtract or modify in them in the slightest. Ruling and Decision No. 3 has indeed modified them by adding a religious qualifier that excludes men from the Fraternity – including previously raised Master Masons. This is in direct violation of the spirit and letter of these Landmarks. Interestingly enough, the Grand Lodge of Florida published following passage in the official publication titled, “Booklet No. 1: The Lodge System of Masonic Education”:
“To the same effect is the ancient law forbidding that a candidate or Brother shall be questioned as to his particular mode of religious faith and also that no sectarian matters shall intrude within a Lodge. Just as it would mean the ultimate destruction of Freemasonry if it were to make itself over into the hands of a political party, so would it mean its death sooner or later to surrender itself to one particular religious Faith or belief.”
In summary, the act of qualifying religious beliefs as a prerequisite to petition for membership, or, remain a member of the Grand Lodge of Florida puts the Grand Lodge of Florida in a state that is incompatible with the principles and Landmarks of Regular Free and Accepted Masonic jurisdictions in the United States.
It is my hope that the Grand Lodge of Vermont can assist our Brothers in Florida by petitioning the Grand Master of Florida to reconsider and repeal Ruling and Decision No. 3.
Should this petition go unheeded by the Grand Master of Florida, then I respectfully request that the Grand Lodge of Vermont withdraw Official Recognition of the Grand Lodge of Florida, as their modifications on the Landmarks of Freemasonry puts them into a branch of Freemasonry that is fundamentally different than all established Regular Free and Accepted Masonic Grand Lodges in the United States.
Thank you for taking the time to read this note.
With every best regard, I remain,
Brother Joseph Netzel
Friendship Lodge #24 F & AM
Florida Mason Bro. Mark E. Kolitko-Rivera on his Masonic Blog – Freemasonry: Reality, Myth, and Legend™ –
-has written a resolution that he will present to the next Florida Grand Session for repeal of Rule No 3. I hate to burst his bubble but the Grand Master is not going to allow that to get to the floor of a Grand Lodge Session.
But this brings out a larger overriding issue that The Beehive has been trumpeting for years now. And this is how can you have two totally different types of Freemasonry under one roof (Mainstream) in the same country? We have the progressive, philosophical Grand Lodges of The North and West versus the regressive, tyrannical Grand Lodges of the South and East. They are so radically different that one could say the other is not really practicing Freemasonry. You do not find this dichotomy in England or Canada or Australia nor even in Prince Hall here in the States. If you travel across Canada from British Columbia to Nova Scotia you will find that Freemasonry is just about the same wherever you go even though its ritual may differ. But a Mainstream Mason from California would be shocked at the way Masonry is practiced in West Virginia and a Mason in Arkansas would be shocked at the way Masonry is practiced in New York.
We have a big problem in American Freemasonry, namely racial and religious bigotry within the Fraternity. And the sad part is that nobody within Mainstream wants to do anything about it. They all cling to the tradition of not messing with somebody else’s business. Whatever another jurisdiction does it’s not for me to meddle with, they say. But it is. What one jurisdiction does reflects on the whole fraternity and right now a few Confederate Freemasons are giving Masonry a black eye. They are ruining it for everybody.
The Beehive calls this “States Rights Freemasonry.” Civilly States Rights as it applies to civil rights and basic human rights was over ridden by federal power when President Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock. Then that “new way of thinking” was augmented by the work of Martin Luther King.
Perhaps today Mainstream American Freemasonry needs its own Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, men bold enough to initiate the change needed and damn all the rules and regulations that prohibit it.
Freemasonry wherever it exists in the United States, no matter the Obedience, has no right to abridge the Civil Rights and the First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution of its members.
There are a couple of solutions here that would not be hard to do. First any Progressive Grand Lodge that feels that another jurisdiction has violated the principles of Freemasonry and is practicing rogue or bogus Masonry can remove recognition of that jurisdiction. All it takes is some intestinal fortitude.
The second solution is one that addresses the seriously fractured operations of U.S. Freemasonry. While Canada has 10 Grand Lodges for its entire country the United States has 51. This opens our highly mobile society in the Information Age to too many fiefdoms of often feudal power making American Freemasonry indefinable. There is no oneness, sameness or cohesiveness to it, no universality. Not even the Landmarks are uniform in Mainstream U.S. Freemasonry. There is no such thing as American Freemasonry. And that doesn’t cut it for this high tech, highly mobile, diverse, multicultural, giant of a nation we have become.
It would solve a lot of problems if Mainstream Masonry in the United States were to adopt some common structure, rules and practices. A National Constitution could accomplish these ends without giving up state sovereignty.
Many a Mason across the nation has been heard to lament that nothing seems to get done. Problems are being recognized and solutions offered but reforms never get passed. Meantime correctable situations go from bad to worse. The reason for this can be traced to the basic flaw in most jurisdictions of having just one year terms for Grand Masters. Grand Lodge officers spend years campaigning to get in line and then when they finally reach the pinnacle of power they become a lame duck leader 6 months after taking office. There is not enough continuity to institute any long range planning. There are too many struggles for political power and not enough programs for long term development. Becoming Grand Master becomes a feather in one’s cap, a prestigious accomplishment of honor and power, a badge to proudly display but not a means for long lasting good government.
Lodges with one year terms for Grand Masters tend to be governed by a cadre of Past Grand Masters. That’s where the real power lies. It is these leaders that choose the next Grand Master or the next entry into a progressive line.
The Beehive recommends that those Masons who are members of tyrannical, rogue Grand Lodges should add a dual membership with another Grand Lodge in the nation, preferably a progressive and enlightened Grand Lodge. Vermont would be a good choice, but there are others. In this manner Masons might be able to shield themselves from arbitrary expulsion at the whim of Grand Masters. Those Brethren in Arkansas, West Virginia, Florida and other Confederate Masonry need to have protection from their Grand Lodges. Dual or plural membership would be that safety valve although there is no guarantee that if your primary Grand Lodge expels you that your secondary Grand Lodge would not follow suit. But if the expulsion was not an egregious offense but rather a tyrannical excuse lacking merit, then it is hard to believe that a “fallback” Grand Lodge would do the same.
One thing is for sure, if Mainstream Masonry continues down the road it is going without making some major reforms it will self destruct. Many jurisdictions have only half the membership they had 20 years ago. American Freemasonry is wounded, bleeding and suffering. If it doesn’t swallow some medicine soon it will shrivel up and die, the remnants being only an idea on the Internet.
American Freemasonry would do well to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln.
June 16, 1858
If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.
We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.
Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.
In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
American Mainstream Freemasonry must choose one way or the other. Will it be the White only, Christian only Freemasonry of the South and East or will it be the enlightened, progressive acceptance of diversity and universality of the North and West? Will it be Grand Masters who follow their Constitutions and open their Grand Lodges to shared government by consensus or will it be a Grand Lodge where the Grand Master is Pope and dictator who can thumb his nose at his Constitutions?
A Masonic House divided against itself cannot stand.
Sometimes in life you have to think outside the box no matter how long it has always been done one particular way.