What is a Masonic Offense? A lot of Masons and Non-Masons have used this term, offense or Masonic offense, in various ways, and in a recent conversation with a friend, this came up as a huge question mark for them. Where does the term offense come from and how is it variously applied?
Offend has varied meanings, from extremely strong (“to strike against”) to the fairly mild (“to be displeasing to.”) It can also mean “to commit an illegal act.” In this case, with a Masonic offense, people are referring to this last designation – to break some law, either written or unwritten. What may surprise non-Masons is that Freemasonry has its own jurisprudence.
The legal system of Freemasonry is governed by its specific degrees and dependent upon the structure of each individual Masonic obedience, for example The United Grand Lodge of England is an obedience, or The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry is another. An article on The Masonic Trowel explains, in broad terms for one obedience (a Grand Lodge structure) what that jurisprudence may be. For obediences that have a Supreme Council structure, the written laws and general customs may be different, as may be Masonic Orders that allow all genders. In fact, technically, each Masonic Order has their own set of rules, regulations, and laws.
Then, one must ask again, what is a “Masonic offense?” It seems to be something that is, in general terms, identified by Masonic authors to be a Masonic crime. Different than public and private crimes, where the laws of the country rule, Masonic crimes have to do with a violation of the duties of a Freemason, to the ritual, the constitutions, the by-laws, and to a Freemason’s moral and literal obligations. In other words, any time a Freemason goes against his consecrated and accepted obligations, the rules of his own order, the instructions of his ritual, or the by-laws of his Lodge, he has committed a Masonic offense. He becomes a potential Masonic criminal, subject to the Masonic punishments his order dictates.
What does a Masonic crime look like? Mackey states, on Page 511 of his Masonic Jurisprudence book, “Disobedience and want of respect to Masonic superiors is an offense for which the transgressor subjects himself to punishment.” In other words, to willfully ignore or counter a superior’s direction is considered a Masonic crime; likewise would be making fun of them, or disparaging their character to others, in private or public. A Freemason may be censured for arguing with another member in a meeting or for being aggressive during a public study session. Freemasons have been expelled from their orders for divorcing their spouses, having personal fights in public, bringing legal actions against other members, or stealing funds from their Lodges. Expulsions happen due to actual physical or verbal abuse. An act committed just once is enough to have Masonic charges brought forward by the offended member or members.
A question recently was posed during a discussion, “Does this apply to actions outside of the Lodge?” In other words, does Masonic jurisprudence stop at the door the Lodge? The answer is an unequivocal “no.”
Freemasons hold themselves to a high moral code. There are no physical boundaries on being a moral and upright human being, one would hope.
The ritual, moral, and constitutional charges to Freemasons interject into every aspect of a Freemason’s life. The rules of the Order and the dictates of the rituals and Lodge heads do not stop once we’re amongst non-Freemasons. In fact, the very fabric of Freemason’s charges, to help the world be a better place, dictates that they must bring Masonic ideals to the public – to non-Masons. This does not mean that they exemplify the positive and ignore the offenses they do while in public. Freemasons obligate a submission to Masonic discipline; this is a 24×7 task and does not end when the Temple lights are turned off.
In a recent article on Indiana Grand Lodge jurisprudence, the author made an argument for a roll-back of some fundamentally silly “Masonic law” involving a bowling team and the use of Lodge names for bowling teams. He asked, “Is this really a rule for High Moral Conduct?” Or course not. He went on, “There is a reason that there are only Ten Commandments. Breaking these rules results in the loss of your soul.” Masonic law should remain “higher” than common, every day public offenses as Freemasons are working to make the common world better. You can only do that if you’re striving to achieve something better than what you already have.
The above author’s solution also included the more rigorous enforcement of Masonic punishment. “Simplification of the rules. Let lodges govern themselves. Yet, enforce them to the letter. Suspensions and trials should be as much of the common lodge landscape as the preverbal fish fry and degree work. We cannot be a society of greatness until we raise the bar and put it back up where it belongs.” I agree.
Culture of the United States tends to shy away from enforcing laws and rules. In general, there is a fear of retribution or loss of membership, or in some cases, rules are enforced on some and not others. This is a societal problem which permeates our consciousness, Freemason or not. People will leave the group if we actually enforce the rules.
Freemasons become Freemasons to become better. If a Freemason submits himself to Masonic discipline, he submits himself the the jurisprudence of Freemasonry. Why wouldn’t the officers and leaders of the Lodge enforce those rules and laws? Why be afraid of creating a better society? People will leave groups for various reasons and perhaps someone enforcing the rules, like the Lodge leadership, may cause departures. That is to be expected because Freemasonry isn’t for everyone. A Lodge survives these departures because those that remain love Freemasonry and respect its higher purpose. What the Freemason should expect is that his Lodge hold him and all members to a high standard, to challenge their moral compass always, to entrust them to do the right thing, even if it is difficult or troublesome. This fulfills the basic tenant of Freemasonry: the perfecting of humanity.