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THE BOUNDARY LINE OF OUR CONDUCT
by Kenneth L. Hemphill
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I would like for each of you to go back with me in your thoughts to the night that you first entered a Masonic Lodge to be initiated. Probably each of us have different events of that memorable evening that stand out, but I can remember how deeply impressed I was to realize that I was recognized as a just and upright Mason and henceforth should walk and act accordingly. Now, it's true that I had previously signed an application promising that, if found worthy, I would conform to all the ancient usages and customs of the fraternity, and I had confirmed this promise to the Marshal before entering the Lodge, but this had been in the nature of signing a blank check. Now, for the' first time I was told that Masonry expected a higher standard of conduct from its members than was expected of other men.
Later in the same evening this was spelled out still further by the allegory of the point within a circle; the point representing an individual brother, and the circle, the boundary line of his conduct beyond which he should never suffer his passions, his prejudices, or his interests, to betray him. Just as the scientist studies the orbit of the satellite spinning around the earth, so should we study this circle that bounds our conduct, so that we will know of what it is composed and how far it extends.
The difficulty that always occurs in a paper of this kind, is that the readers are made up in part of those officers and older members who are interested in and support all things Masonic; and partly of those who are new to the Craft and are anxious to learn. If we who prepare the material aim at the first group and leave out the more elementary concepts of our subject, we do the newcomers to Masonry an injustice. For this reason I hope that you of the first group, who might be referred to as graduate students, will forgive me if I include points which may seem obvious to you, but still may not have occurred to the undergraduate.
First, let us consider the fibre out of which this circle that bounds our conduct is woven. Where are the restrictions found that govern us?
Primarily, of course, we must look to the ritual. Here we find the basic obligations that we have solemnly promised to obey. In addition to these obligations, we find the charges and lectures filled with lessons designed to improve our lives and actions. Finally, we come to a realization that we should renounce our own wills in all things appertaining to Freemasonry and should conform to and abide by all the rules and regulations of the Fraternity. These include the legislation and by-laws of our own Lodge, the Constitution and Edicts of the Grand Lodge, and also those Ancient Landmarks and Constitutions of the Craft that have been passed down to us through the ages. All of these, taken together, set the boundaries that govern our conduct.
These regulations can be broken down into several categories: 1) Those that govern our conduct toward the Lodge and its officers; 2) Those that govern our dealings with other Masons; and 3) Those that govern our conduct in the outside world.
First, we will examine the rules a Mason must abide by with regard to his Lodge.
One of the most important is that he must respect the Master's decision in all things Masonic. Back in 1879 a dispute arose in one of our Lodges when a brother refused to obey the Master's gavel and in effect told him, "Bang away all you please! I'm going to have my say! !"
He also suggested that if the Master didn't want to listen to him, he could turn his chair over to the Senior Warden and leave. The disputing brother was tried and expelled and in upholding the verdict, the Grievance Committee stated the law as follows: "If the lawful prerogatives of the Master are not sustained, the whole fabric of Freemasonry falls to the ground. Ours is essentially an autocratic institution and no one of the regulations should be more carefully maintained than that of the Master to control his Lodge. He is accountable to Grand Lodge only, and if any brother considers himself unjustly treated, he has his remedy by applying to that supreme authority. "
The same reasoning applies to a summons, either from the Lodge or the Master. The member has no right to question its legality or to refuse to obey it unless he is physically unable to attend.
Of equal importance are the rules governing secrecy. This, of course, applies to the ritual and includes the prohibition against the use of any code book. The result of a ballot on an applicant is never to be disclosed except by the Secretary to the applicant. This also applies to any trial record or proceeding where a brother is reprimanded, suspended, or expelled; or to any transaction which, in the opinion of the Master, should be kept secret. Nor should any member reveal his own vote on a secret ballot, or the reason for it; except to the Worshipful Master for the purpose of correcting an error or injustice.
Every member present must take part in the balloting and not leave the Lodge room during the voting. It is unmasonic to use the blackball for personal reasons. A brother cannot be a party to the misrepresentation of facts in an application, nor can he conceal or withhold information. It is also an offense to object to the advancement of a candidate without sufficient reason.
It is unlawful to misrepresent the proceedings of a Lodge. In 1870 a brother sent word to the Grand Master that his Lodge was in a state of rebellion against Grand Lodge, and made other statements designed to bring disgrace upon his Lodge. Upon investigation it turned out that he had misrepresented the facts and for this, he was expelled.
A Mason cannot visit a clandestine Lodge, and if he has any doubt as to its regularity he may request and examine the Charter. He cannot vouch for anyone whom he has not sat with in a regular Lodge, nor can he conduct a private examination. He cannot appear in public in Masonic clothing except for a funeral or other recognized ceremony.
A member cannot circulate a petition in a Lodge seeking financial aid for any matter not Masonic, regardless of how worthy the cause. An exception has been made in matters relating to statewide public schools; but then only if the person soliciting has been appointed to a committee for that purpose. Even this solicitation must not be done in a tiled Lodge, but may be done on the premises or by mail.
A Mason must not circulate petitions or electioneer in order to influence the proceedings in Grand Lodge. It is unmasonic not to pay dues. A member can withdraw from a Lodge in which he is in good standing, but he cannot renounce Masonry.
So much for conduct toward our Lodge.
Our laws are equally specific in regard to our attitude toward our brethren.
We must not use abusive language toward a brother or strike him in anger. Neither should we slander him nor in any way injure his good name. The old Constitution says, "If a brother live amiss or slander his brother so as to bring the craft to shame, he shall have no further maintenance among the brethren. " He also must not reveal the secrets of a brother when entrusted to him as such except where certain serious crimes are involved.
Many cases have come before Grand Lodge involving business deals among brethren. Grand Lodge has repeatedly ruled that they will not arbitrate such disputes or cases where debts have not been paid, unless there is evidence of fraud or willful deception. While not expressly stated in our obligations, the same applies if the widow or wife of a Mason is defrauded.
Grand Lodge has attempted to keep clear of political disputes involving members. Back in 1874 one brother went so far as to hang the effigy of another brother who opposed him in politics. The act was publicly done in front of the local post office. The hangee attempted to bring Masonic charges against the hangar but Grand Lodge threw the case out, apparently feeling that all is fair in politics.
By far the most important rules concerning our conduct are those governing our actions toward the world outside of Masonry. The offenses within our Lodges and toward our brethren can be handled without adverse publicity, but when we forget the rules laid down for our behavior to others, we blacken the good name of every member of the Craft.
Some of the regulations are obvious, covering rape, adultery, dueling, embezzlement, and other such serious crimes. All of these are Masonic offenses and are the basis for a Masonic trial even though the offender has been acquitted in the courts or has failed to be indicted by a Grand Jury. The conviction and imprisonment of a Mason for any felony may subject him to expulsion.
Brethren have been expelled for sending obscene letters through the mails; for using vile and abusive language; for the renting of a house, knowing that it was to be used for prostitution; for frequenting such places; for the habitual use of narcotics; and for making the statement publicly or privately denying the existence of God.
In a case one year, a brother was expelled for willfully and knowingly filing a false income tax report, even though he had later cleared himself with the Federal government by paying a fine.
A Mason may be expelled for membership, either past or present, in any group which advocates the overthrow of our government by force or other unlawful means.
Liquor has been the source of many problems in Masonic law just as it has in our civil and criminal courts. Habitual drunkenness is, of course, unmasonic as it violates our basic teachings of the cardinal virtue of temperance. Since 1912 we had a section in our code prohibiting membership to anyone who is engaged, either as owner or employee, in the saloon business, unless as part of a bonafide hotel or restaurant. The passing of the old time saloon and the advent of cocktail bars, beer parlors, and package stores, have led to many decisions on this question, and this law was repeated in 1966.
There is no prohibition in our California Masonic Law against selling packaged liquor; however, an interesting case arose in 1952. A California Mason had moved to Nebraska and entered into a retail packaged liquor business. The Masonic law in Nebraska prohibits the engaging in the sale of liquor in any form, so the brother was tried in a Nebraska Lodge and expelled from all the rights and privileges of Masonry. The question then arose as to what his standing was in California as he had not violated any specific California Masonic Law. The decision of the Grand Lodge, based on the Ancient Landmark, "Every Freemason is amenable to the Laws and Regulations of the Masonic Jurisdiction in which he resides", was that the brother was guilty of unmasonic conduct and he was expelled in California too.
Gambling has also created its share of problems. Habitual gambling has always been unmasonic and we find in the Ancient Charges that, "A Mason must be no common player at the cards, dice, or hazard." In recent years, it has become commonplace to see many reputable organizations turn to indirect forms of gambling such as bingo, lotteries, drawings, etc. , as a means of raising money, so it is only natural that some of our brethren have looked toward these means to raise money for some worthwhile project. Freemasonry, however, has stood firm against this tide and no Lodge or individual Mason can promote or take part in any such gambling activity for the benefit of any organization of Masons or where the prerequisite of membership is that the person be a Master Mason.
In the field of Masonic conduct toward the public, the issue that has raised the most controversy, and has probably had the most time devoted to it in recent years, is in that field covered by the broad term "Commercialism." Before being admitted to a Lodge for the first time, we all agreed that we were uninfluenced by mercenary motives, and for many years our Constitution has specifically forbidden any Lodge or individual Mason from using Masonry to further any commercial enterprise. The enforcement of this had been confined mainly to prohibiting the use of the Masonic name or insignia in advertising any private business. This also applied to political candidates who may, under present interpretation, announce their Masonic affiliation, but have never been allowed to use Masonic emblems or symbols in their campaigns. Many abuses had been tolerated name and solicited funds and advertising from the general public with the implication that the money was for Masonic purposes. In 1951 Grand Master Clausen recognized this evil, and the complaints that were coming in, and took steps to correct it by appointing a special committee on Publications. Attempts were made to regulate the various publications, but enforcement was difficult, so in 1954 Grand Lodge adopted the present legislation which prohibits any Lodge or member from advertising in any media which purports to be Masonic.
During the investigation of this problem, the committee found many cases outside the field of publications where the public was being solicited for funds to support activities misrepresented to the donors as Masonic. Because of this, the committee evolved into our present committee on Commercialism. They found numerous cases where money that was solicited for supposedly Masonic charities was going into the hands of promoters with only a small portion finding its way to the worthy cause for which it was intended. This led to legislation adopted in 1955 providing that any Mason, who as a member of any body connected with Masonry, takes part in any business venture or promotion of that organization, which is unethical, fraudulent, misleading, or illegal, is guilty of unmasonic conduct. Some of our members, now suspended or expelled, have learned to their sorrow, that the Grand Lodge of California will no longer stand by and see the good name of Masonry sold to the public for the benefit of a few.
In the brief period allotted to this paper, I have tried to cover the main rules that govern our conduct, and the steps that have been taken by the Grand Lodge to spell out the principles and obligations of Masonry.
One point should be made very clear. There is a tendency by some to regard Grand Lodge as some obscure clique or mysterious group working behind the scenes to decide the affairs of Masonry. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Grand Lodge is the Masters and Wardens and representatives of the about 700 Lodges of California, who meet annually in San Francisco. Every action of the Grand Master and his committee is brought before that group and it is they who decide what the policies and laws of California Masonry shall be.
Our Lodges have ample authority to enforce our regulations as this authority extends over all their own members, wherever they may be; and also over all other Masons who live within the jurisdiction of the Lodge. In contrast to our civil law, there is no statute of limitations in Masonic Law. Masonic trials; however, are unpleasant affairs that consume the time and effort of all concerned and are often a financial burden on the Lodges. Many of these could be avoided if we would take the following steps:
First, see that our members are educated Masonically so that they know what is expected of them as Masons. Second, when we find a brother forgetting his teachings, we should remember to whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonish him of his errors, and endeavor in a friendly way to bring about true and lasting reformation. And finally, we should guard our portals so that only those are admitted to our fraternity who will be receptive to our teachings, and who will find it easy to conduct themselves as Masons.
In closing, I would like to point out that in this discussion of Masonic Conduct, we have only looked at one side of the coin. We have spent our time in talking about what lies outside the circle of our conduct. We could spend an equal amount of time discussing that portion of our conduct which lies inside the circle where we are expected to carry out the tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. We should always remember that the good name of Masonry is not the result of what we do not do, but instead is the result of the good things that have been done in practicing outside of the Lodge those great moral duties which are inculcated in it, and with reverence studying and obeying the laws which the Supreme Grand Master has given us in His Holy Word.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014