THE BOUNDARY LINE OF OUR CONDUCT
by Kenneth L. Hemphill
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.
I - CONDUCT TOWARD LODGE OR OFFICERS
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
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
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
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.
II - CONDUCT TOWARD BRETHREN
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.
III - CONDUCT TOWARD THE WORLD
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
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
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
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.