The Journalstar.com news website, out of Lincoln Nebraska, reported on November 22, 2010:
“Lincoln police went to Waverly early Sunday to find a man who they say fired a handgun twice following a fight at his girlfriend’s Lincoln home.
[Edward Watts was] arrested on suspicion of first-degree assault, strangulation, terroristic threats and use of a weapon to commit a felony after police learned of the incident at the house in the XXX block of Eldora Avenue in Lincoln, Officer Katie Flood said'”
The a consequence of the events following the brutality of that day have started to make some ripples in the Masonic pond, which have lead to calls for his removal from notable past editor of the Philalethes Society Journal of Masonic Research Nelson King who published on the Masonic Brothers yahoo Group on a January 8th:
It is necessary to bring to your attention a grave breech of dignity and honor imminently befalling the Grand Lodge of Nebraska, USA with ramifications for Freemasonry worldwide. The man set to be installed as Grand Master of Masons of Nebraska on February 5, 2011, Deputy Grand Master Edward David Watts, was recently arrested by police and subsequently formally charged by the Lancaster County Attorney in Lincoln, Nebraska with four felony crimes. These include First-degree Assault, Strangulation, Terroristic Threats, and Use of a Weapon to Commit a Felony.
He goes on to say that, following his installation as Grand Master that he would dismiss the charges against himself and continue on as the Grand Master of Masons in Nebraska. He says further:
The distressing part of this situation is the fact that nothing has yet been done to remove Watts from Freemasonry in Nebraska or even remove him as a Grand Lodge Officer. In fact, it has come to our attention that even though Masonic charges have been filed, the leadership of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska and the Nebraska Jurisprudence Committee appear to still believe there is nothing that can prevent Watts from being installed as Grand Master.
The plea in the email continues as King says:
The notion of “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply in this case. That standard applies to the court system, not a private fraternity. Watts has already done significant damage to the fraternity by making the wrong decisions that led to his latest felony arrest and his past criminal misconduct contributes to the overall assertion that he should not be Grand Master. Watts’ tactics include making unsubstantiated claims that the charges will be dropped, the police were corrupt and wrong, and the man he victimized is lying. This is in an effort to ensure no Masonic punitive action takes place before he is installed as Grand Master. Watts then intends to keep pushing back his trial until after he leaves the Grand East or doesn’t care if he is convicted of the crimes once he is already Grand Master.
Citing a long spate of felonies and morally questionable activities, King sums his appeal this way saying:
All of these things show a pattern of poor judgment and conduct unbecoming any Freemason, let alone a man who would be Grand Master. Regardless of whether or not any of the current felonies with which Watts is charged are dismissed or reduced, the totality of the circumstances dictate that Watts must be expelled from the fraternity lest it be viewed by the public as a secret society that condones misconduct by its leadership and further covers up such behavior.
The fear is that besides am ugly public drubbing, that the UGLE would rescind its recognition of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska because of such horrendous decision making and unsound judgments.
The argument itself is based on the question Moral Turpitude which is a Masonic Jurisprudence loop hole by which to expel a member should they befall, or have discovered, a social hiccup.
Wikipedia has an good definition of Moral Turpitude that, though lengthy, says it all.
Moral turpitude is a legal concept in the United States that refers to “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.” It appears in U.S. immigration law from the nineteenth century. In other common law jurisdictions it is dated or obsolete.
The concept of moral turpitude escapes precise definition but has been described as an “act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.” The specific acts that such a concept includes inevitably change over time, as general public acceptance or abhorrence of issues alters; for example, until recent times, a man engaged in homosexual behavior was still considered as engaging in “criminal behavior involving moral turpitude.”
The classification of a crime or other conduct as constituting moral turpitude has significance in several areas of law. First, prior conviction of a crime of moral turpitude (or in some jurisdictions, moral turpitude conduct, even without a conviction) is considered to have a bearing on the honesty of a witness and may be used for purposes of witness impeachment. Second, moral turpitude offenses may be grounds to deny or revoke a professional license such as a teaching credential, license to practice law, or other licensed profession. Third, it is of great importance for immigration purposes, as offenses which are defined as involving moral turpitude are considered bars to immigration into the U.S.
So, in a nutshell, if you have a DUI, minor criminal infraction, pay your taxes late, spit on the curb, have been drunk in public, or any of a long long list of base acts in society, your guilty of moral turpitude, in a sense, a moral law.
In the case of Watts, the appeal from King was not the only place the story surfaced on the web.
In December of 2010, a small local opinion piece on the matter appeared on the website VansOpinions.com. A reading though the published journal gives a detailed reporting of one, seemingly, Nebraska Mason observed the incident as Robert J. Van Valkenburg, the author Van, opines about the Golden Chain Gang of Nebraska Grand Lodge leadership who in his first writing on the subject slams the leadership of Nebraska saying:
Year back, a few of the self-serving “leaders” of the fraternity, nearly all of which were lawyers wanting to maintain control of the fraternity, plumbed themselves into several of the key committees of the grand lodge. Additionally they changed the Bylaws of the Grand Lodge to the extent that the man elected to the position of Deputy Grand Master was also “Grand Master – Elect” meaning he would assume the highest position without a further vote of the Masons attending the subsequent “Annual Communication” [meeting] Thus, Watts, when elected, was locket into being installed in 2011.
His complaint was that Watts had resigned without there being a clear line of succession for the outgoing Grand Master John T. Parsons of Papillon. Van said that this was a coup of sorts bemoaning “about the few so called leaders of the fraternity who are corrupting its teachings for their own self-serving purposes. The members are kept in the dark, manipulated, lied to and deceived by “The Gold Chain Gang” in Nebraska.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story, of Van’s or of Watts, and continues in later posts by Van who chronicled the story in the days following his first post.
In his next post Van says:
Since the posting of the last article a number of sources have indicated Edward David Watts in fact, had NOT resigned as Deputy Grand Master of Masons of Nebraska. In all fairness to Watts, a good deal more discovery has taken place and interesting discoveries have been made. Unless we have received erroneous information from a person in the Office of the Clerk of Lancaster County Court, Criminal Division, a “Preliminary Hearing” will be held on a case captioned “State v. Edward D. Watts” at 10:00 A.M. on 6 December 2011, at which time we believe a number of interesting facts will be presented to the Judge. This article should give all interested parties…INCLUDING THE JUDGE…a number of documented facts worthy of detailed investigation. My advice to Watts – FOR NOW DO NOT RESIGN. IF YOU HAVE, RESCIND IT!
He goes on to quote from the first degree saying:
“Justice is that standard, or boundary of right, which enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with divine and human laws, but is the very cement and support of civil society; and as justice in a great measure constitutes the real good man, so should it be the invariable practice of every Mason, never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof…”
To which he takes the position that Watts is innocent until proven guilty – even of moral turpitude, which I have to be honest, is the best way to proceed, no matter our elevated idea of morality that allows us to evaluate and condemn a man for what we want to say his depravity is.
Van takes it a step further and begins a tirade on the GL leadership who, in acting in their mind in the best interest of the fraternity. He starts his next foray February 17th, 2011, this way:
At the 154th Communication (Convention) of the Grand :Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Nebraska held in Grand Island in early February 2011, John T. Parsons, the incumbent Grand Master, proved the fraternity can provide a means to make good men bad when they ignore and corrupt the teachings of the fraternity and its Constitution and Bylaws. Bad people, even egomaniacal asses manage to wedge themselves into all organizations even the most honorable Masonic Fraternity.
He goes on to proclaim the Nebraska Grand Master, John Parsons (note Watts has not been installed yet) as being “Most Un-Masonic” while he while presided over the last annual meeting of the fraternity. The rub this time over a conspiracy that was fomented to keep Watts from being installed, Van reports:
John Parsons has unfortunately chosen to conspire with others in an unlawful attempt to keep a worthy Brother, David Watts, from rightfully being installed as his successor pursuant to ARTICLE VII of the organization’s Constitution. Parsons has pompously pranced about Nebraska making appearances and elsewhere for the last year as the seated “Grand Master” and do so to a large extent on OTHER MASONS’ MONEY. Having members of the Masonic Fraternity and those in other appendant bodies treat him royally has, in my opinion, gone to his head. I believe he just can’t accept the fact that from the ranks he came, and now most properly, to the ranks he must return.
Van writes this on the heels of Parsons having told the oldest living Past Grand Master Don Swanson, a permanent member of the Nebraska Grand Lodge, to “sit your ass down and shut up” in an open meeting attended by hundreds of Nebraska Masons when Swanson stood up for Watts. Van says of the matter:
During a business portion of the Grand Lodge session, Parsons presiding, the matter of false and fabricated “Masonic Charges” against Watts were presented to the body (by Swanson). That in itself was totally out of consonance with “Masonic Law” and in fact, in my opinion, a Masonic Offense.
But, the story doesn’t end there. Van Valkenburg goes on to post on February 24th some of the most controversial yet material reporting:
It’s time for ALL Nebraska Masons to know what has been going on “behind their backs” In some areas of government, it might be called “back channeling” or clandestine dealings outside of prescribed and lawful avenues. It appears the Grand Lodge of Nebraska has been taken over by a self-appointed group of Past Grand Masters and their cronies reducing all honest and trusting Masons to being nothing more than a source of funding to support their wishes and whims. Most of the evil doers are attorneys.
Going further proclaiming now that Parsons is in fact the Mason who should be expelled from Nebraska Freemasonry and not Watts, as you would think based on the Moral Turpitude clause.
Then, Van drops a bombshell:
On the evening of 17 February 2011, before the close of a duly opened Lodge of Master Masons in Wood River, Nebraska (Cement Lodge #211), the oldest living Past Grand Master of Masons in Nebraska, Donald Swanson, properly and formally installed David Watts as the new Grand Master replacing Parsons.
Careful attention was given to the installation being done in strict accordance and compliance with established procedures and within the scope of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Grand Lodge. There were 14 members present, two of which were Past Grand Masters. This was done in spite of the fact Parsons had sent a letter to all Past Grand Masters telling them he would have them expelled from Masonry if they participated in installing Watts. I forgot to mention, the installation had to be done by a Past Grand Master. Swanson was the only one willing to thumb his nose at Parsons and see the deed was done without interruption.
The following Saturday, Dave Watts, the newly installed Grand Master, traveled to Alliance, Nebraska and installed the other “elected” officers of Grand Lodge. He thereafter went directly to Denver, Colorado to attend a regional conference of Grand Masters as Nebraska’s representative.
As with any bombshell there was a lot of collateral damage with shaking fists and claims of charter pulling, expelling members, and even civil law suits, as Van opined that he believes the “‘SOB(s)’ victimized by fraternal corruption may have civil recourse in a real court of law.”
And, if bad couldn’t go to worse, Van then begins to enumerate the raising of sex offenders as Masons in Nebraska lodges who was left unchecked to move through the chairs.
Overwhelming, isn’t it? The picture of a train wreck comes to mind from all fronts here, especially if even half of what Van reports is to be believed.
The facts we do have is that an Edward D. Watts was in fact arrested and in fact charged
And, news reports abound on the story:
ABC 8 KLKNTV reports Man fires gun after fight.
1011Now.com shares the same head line
The Journal Star mentioned at the beginning: Man suspected of fighting, firing handgun early Sunday
and KFOR 1240 AM reporting 54-Year-Old Waverly Man in Jail Today.
Very little else can be gleaned from the web on the issue, and it seems that Van’s reporting is the ONLY reporting coming out of the state. Van mentioned Watts and Parsons crossing paths at the Conference of Grand Masters in February, but the events itinerary has no mention of either nor of Nebraska for that matter.
I did come across a open case in the Lancaster County office of the District Attorney, State vs Edward Watts case number of CR11-95, where the name matches the criminal charges from November 21, 2010 with two of the previous charges dismissed by the court. Those two dismissed charges were Terroristic Threats and Use of a Deadly Weapon to Commit a Felony. While those two charges were dropped Assault, 1st degree and Strangulation remain in an open case.
Truthfully, it’s hard to tell, especially as Van has not reported further, and there has been no “official” word from the Grand Lodge. It would seem, from Van’s observation that there is a Schism in that there are two presiding Grand Masters Watts and Parsons while issues of Moral Turpitude and guilt sway in-between. Is this really a pall over Nebraska or Freemasonry for that matter as King so chillingly proclaimed? Or is it just another bump in the long road of independent governance that each state of Masonic fiefdoms cling to?
Truly in this train wreck, only time will tell which engine stays on the tracks and if it really reflects a knee jerk expulsion for moral turpitude or a claim of guilty until proven innocent.
Personally, if the facts are true, it’s not a very good example of Masonry to be put forth – period.