Should a Police Officer Be a Freemason?

W. Bro. R. C. Young, P.G.Purs

The question of whether a police officer can carry out his duties professionally and fairly and be a Freemason is a subject which causes considerable concern and anxiety to both police officers and the public alike.

It is widely believed that Freemasonry is strongly represented in the Police Service and as the Service occupies a special position in society, police officers must be seen to be above reproach if the Service is to enjoy a successful and essential partnership with the public. Membership of what is perceived as a secret society casts doubts, rightly or wrongly, on the Police Service and criminal justice system. It is also believed that the organisation is there to promote advantages to its members.

Freemasons maintain that Freemasonry is not a secret society but a society with secrets. This distinction generates much puzzlement amongst laymen but there is some difference. A truly secret society would be one where its very existence would be unknown to anyone other than its members. This is not the case with regard to Freemasonry as its existence is widely known, as are many of its members.

Also there is nothing about the organisation that is incapable of research. Many books are to be found in book shops and libraries, e.g. 'Inside the Brotherhood' by Martin Short, 'Darkness Visible and Christian by Degrees' by Walton Hannah and 'The Brotherhood' by Stephen Knight. Each of these sets out the aims, ceremonies, signs, symbols and passwords of the organisation. In addition, television and the tabloids have frequently carried out exposures.

Other organisations which have secrets, e.g. The Royal Andeluvian Order of Buffaloes, The Elks, The Moose and The Knights of Saint Columbia, do not attract media attention but little is known about their activities or membership, least of all how many police officers participate.

Recently Grand Lodge decided to change its policy, whereby Freemasonry became more open and accountable. A parallel situation has occurred in recent years within the Police Service, including the similarity of opening up Masonic centres and police buildings for public viewing and inspection.

Whilst this open policy is generally applauded by most Masons, police officers and the public alike, for some it may well have led to more problems than it has solved. For a policeman who is also a Mason the problem has magnified.

Some tabloids have identified police offers, mainly senior ones, as Freemasons and implied impropriety because of their membership. For them the media pressure has become intense and an intrusion on their private life, impacting on their careers, families, friends and work colleagues.

Freemasonry has this effect on the media. It is very easy to see conspiracy when dealing with a group whose membership is perceived to be secret. Critics of it are also not going to be too concerned about dealing fairly with an organisation they perceive to be set up for the unfair benefit of its members. The tragedy of this is that while the Police Service is seen as a stronghold of Freemasonry, any mud which is thrown at Masons in general sticks to the Service as a whole.

There are many, some of whom are police officers, e.g. Ex Chief Inspector Woolard of the Metropolitan Police, who has carried out an intense media campaign against Freemasonry, who feel they have been the victims of Masonic conspiracy. The media will always latch onto such people, whatever the merits of their case, and the whole round of smears and innuendo will surface again. Each time it does the public's image of the police will inevitably suffer. Each time the public will suspect, however groundlessly, that there is one law for the policeman who is a Freemason and one law for everyone else.

Some people would like to see Police Regulations ban officers from joining Freemasonry and a more liberal use made of Regulation 10 and Schedule 2.1 of the Police Regulations 1987, which deals with the restrictions on the private life of members. It states "A member shall at all times abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duties or which is likely to give rise to the impression among members of the public that it may so interfere".

It is conceivable that this Regulation could be used in a disciplinary action if it could be proved that an officer's involvement with Freemasonry interfered with his duty. In 1985 the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Kenneth Newman, published and served on every serving officer of that Force a manual entitled 'The Policing Principals of the Metropolitan Police'. It advised officers not to join Freemasonry as it was incompatible with police duties and suggested officers who were already Freemasons should ponder on whether they should remain. Whilst this could not be a direct order as it is not unlawful for anyone to belong to Freemasonry and it would be an unwarranted interference with private life, it was laid down as an edict and many acted upon it, fearing the possible consequences. This manual is given to every recruit who joined the Service and every effort is made to dissuade them from joining.

The Chief Constables of West Mercia, North Wales and Lincolnshire, to name but a few, repeated the advice and similarly discouraged their officers. Sir James Anderton, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, stated that he wanted stricter guidelines as he felt that membership of the society in general was incompatible with membership of the Police Service.

The Chief Constables of the West Midlands, Essex and West Yorkshire stated they would not be following the Metropolitan Police example, as did Mr John Duke, the Chief Constable of Hampshire, stating "There are already enough restrictions on a police officer's private life. If Freemasonry was incompatible with being a police officer I am quite sure the law would prohibit it".

In 1988 Mr Dale Campbell-Savours, MP, tried unsuccessfully to introduce a bill in the House of Commons prohibiting police officers becoming Freemasons and called on all who were to resign.

This pressure has inevitably taken its toll on serving officers who are Freemasons. Many have resigned from their Lodges, gone on the country list or have been forced to keep a very low profile.

Similarly, officers have had to take the same course of action when they have found themselves in Lodges with brethren convicted of criminal offences. The Discipline code prohibits association with criminals and police officers have found themselves in an impossible position. Fortunately this has now been resolved since Grand Lodge has been expelling miscreants.

A great concern to many police officers, both Freemasons and otherwise, is the question of promotion. Those who are not Freemasons accuse its members of favouring the selection of other Masons but since some chief officers have announced Freemasonry to be incompatible with police duty, there is a great concern that Freemasons are deliberately not being selected. There is evidence in support of the latter, as some Freemasons have been informed that they will not be selected whilst they remain in the Craft, despite assurances that it will not happen.

Freemasons believe there should be no difficulty in a police officer being a Freemason as the attestation of a constable on appointment lies four square and bears more than a passing similarity to the Charge. The initiate is also told before he takes his obligation that "In those vows there is nothing incompatible with your civil, moral or religious duties". This clearly shows that a policeman can be a sound and respected Freemason as well as a dedicated and honourable policeman.

To most, joining Freemasonry means joining a body of men who place integrity and duty to their fellow man above all else. These are exactly the qualities required in every police officer. In addition, in both police officers and Freemasons, there are many examples where personal dedication, probity and honour are second to none. The thoughts of others are reflected in charity giving and the wide remit in dispensing the monies raised to worthy causes beyond Freemasonry.

Freemasons believe that if every policeman, Freemason or otherwise, could uphold the edicts and principles of Freemasonry, then there would be a very fine Police Service indeed.

In his address to Grand Lodge on 12 September 1984, the MW Pro Grand Master Lord Cornwallis said "There is nothing incompatible between Freemasonry and the Police Service. The principals of Freemasonry should indeed improve the quality of a Freemason's discharge of his public and private responsibilities, whatever they may by. Freemasons are forbidden to use their membership to promote their or anyone else's business, professional or personal interests and are subject to Masonic discipline if they transgress. Finally, their duties as citizens — even more if they are police officers — must prevail."

Some policemen are Masons and some Masons are policemen. Both have to be of strong moral fibre and be prepared to stand up and be counted. It seems the most successful of both invariably have very strong personalities. They have to be in the present situation.