Vol. XXXII No. 10 — October 1954

Rights and Privileges of a Master Mason

The dividing line between a right and a privilege is narrow, and often crossed in a definition of either.

The Standard Dictionary defines privilege as “A peculiar benefit, favor or advantage, a right (italics ours) or immunity not enjoyed by all, or that may be enjoyed only under special conditions.”

The same authority states that a right is “A just or proper claim or title to anything founded upon any consideration of justice.”

“Rights and privileges” are usually quoted together in speaking of the advantages possessed by a Master Mason over one of lesser rank, or over a profane. The phrase is apparently a word-pair that came into the Fraternity in the early days when words from two languages were used to express the same meaning, lest someone fail to understand — as “parts and points,” “free will and accord,” “hele and conceal,” etc.

Privilege is from the Latin privus, single, and lex, law — a special law for a special case. Right is from the Anglo-Saxon riht - straight, just.

Mackey lists nine of “the most important rights” of a Master Mason as Membership, Affiliation, Visit, Avouchment, Relief, Demission, Appeal, Burial, and Trial.

Any intelligent discussion of these presupposes the knowledge that no matter how much law makes these “rights,” they are also “privileges,” since they are possessions of Master Masons that Fellowcrafts, Entered Apprentices and profanes do not possess.

Election to receive the three degrees may be accomplished all in one ballot, or, by a single ballot before each degree. In at least one jurisdiction the applicant is twice voted on after his Entered Apprentice Degree and before his Fellowcraft Degree; one on his moral character and once upon his proficiency, and the same following his Fellowcraft Degree. In no case does a petitioner have to pass a ballot after he has received the Master Mason Degree. He is then, by common consent, in possession of the right of being a member of the lodge that has given him the degrees, or, if the degrees were conferred by courtesy for another lodge, of being a member of that lodge. To confirm the membership he has but to sign the by-laws. In at least one jurisdiction, this he may not do until he has attended certain Lodges of Instruction, but, generally speaking, the Master Mason Degree includes the possession of the right of membership, which cannot be denied except by charges preferred, trial, conviction, and duly prescribed punishment.

The Right of Membership brings with it an equal share in the assets of the lodge, the right to aspire to and be elected or appointed to any office in the lodge except that of master, and in fact the right to enjoy all the other rights that inure to a Master Mason.

Included in these is the Right of Affiliation. It is universal that an affiliated Mason possesses all the rights in the lodge of those who became members of it by initiation, passing and raising. But, unlike the Master Mason just raised, who becomes a member of the lodge that balloted favorably to give him the degrees, the would-be affiliate must pass a ballot to become such. His “right” extends only to the application. His “right” to affiliation is dependent upon the lodge of his choice voting to receive him.

In approximately half of the Grand Lodges of the United States, a Master Mason may belong to two lodges. Usually these are his Mother lodge (in which he was raised) and the lodge of his choice in another jurisdiction to which he may have removed. In a few places in the world a member may belong to as many lodges within one jurisdiction as are willing to admit him and in which he is willing to pay dues. These are concomitant to the general Right of Affiliation. In exercising his right to affiliate a Mason demitted from his home lodge or holding a certificate of transfer, is but obeying the ancient law of our brethren of 1723. Anderson’s Constitutions, speaking of a lodge, states “every brother ought to belong to one.”

The Right to Visit is a particular case in point for those who wish to draw a fine distinction between a right and a privilege. No lodge anywhere denies any Master Masons right to apply for admission as a visitor. No profane has this right. No Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft has this right. To be able to ask for admittance to a lodge other than his own is strictly a Master Mason’s right and/or privilege.

But within the lodge are rights of brethren and the right of a master to exclude. A master who is convinced that the would-be visitor will interfere with the peace and harmony of his lodge has the right to deny the applicant admission. It is equally the right of any member to say to the master, “I do not wish to sit in lodge with Brother A,” and the master may then exercise his right of exclusion.

But then the visitor, denied admission, has a right of appeal to grand lodge and a master must be able to justify his exclusion of the would-be visitor or be subject to discipline.

Some lodges exclude all visitors on special occasions, such as lodge trials, election and installation, etc., which is entirely within their prerogative.

To exercise the Right to Visit the would-be visitor must be a member in good standing. If he holds a dimit or a certificate of transfer, he is subject to the regulations of the grand lodge under which the lodge he would visit is holden. In some jurisdictions a non-affiliate may visit once in every lodge (to seek the home with which he would affiliate), in others he may visit only a specified number of times. But no Master Mason under expulsion or suspension (as for non-payment of dues) may visit anywhere, not even his own home lodge.

It is axiomatic that a would-be visitor must either be vouched for or pass an examination to the satisfaction of the committee appointed by the master of the lodge he would visit.

The Right of Avouchment is double; possessed by him who would vouch for his brother and also by the brother who asks for avouchment.

It is, perhaps, one of the least comprehended rights — and should be one of the best understood.

Mackey believed in the right of one brother to examine another individual. Most grand lodges frown upon the practice, because of the varying standards of proficiency that might thus come into use. Generally speaking, Masonic examination of a brother should be conducted only by a committee appointed by a master of a lodge, since this is the only way in which authority may guide the practice.

The examiners of a committee, if satisfied, have the right to vouch for him who has satisfied them.

Any brother who has sat in lodge with a brother has the right to vouch for him, and any brother has the right to ask for such avouchment.

But the right does not persist through intermediaries. A can vouch for B to C, provided A, B and C are together. But A cannot vouch for B to C in the absence of B. B may be Brother Brown. There may be a dozen Brothers Brown in the neighborhood. Brother A may believe he is vouching for Brother X. Y. Brown, and C may understand that it is Brother J. Q. Brown who is being vouched for!

Similarly, vouching by mail, vouching via telephone or telegraph is strictly un-Masonic and should never be attempted.

To vouch for another is to put one’s own regularity and honesty in the hands of another. He is wise who does so only after personal knowledge of the brother for whom he vouches, and never to anyone except in the presence of both the vouched for and the vouched to.

The Right of Relief is well understood by Masons but seldom by those not of the Fraternity. Many people think that Masonry is a charitable, benevolent, relief organization, organized and conducted for those purposes.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Freemasonry is organized and conducted for the moral advancement of its members and, in general, of the world at large; to develop character among men is its great aim. Incidentally, it gives relief to the distressed when it can and under certain conditions. Grand lodges establish and conduct Masonic homes, orphanages, schools, hospitals, sanitariums, for the aged and infirm. Grand lodges have Benevolent Foundations for the amelioration of distress among members and their dependents. But these are all voluntary gifts of brethren to those in need. Hie needy have the right to ask, but only the privilege to receive and if the relief is denied there is normally no right of appeal.

Legally to be entitled to exercise the right of asking for relief a Mason must be worthy — that is, in good standing and not under charges; he must be in distress.

To grant relief to the worthy distressed is a principle as old as organized Freemasonry. The Old Charges say so in unequivocal language. The Rite of Destitution of the Entered Apprentice Degree is plain. A Master Mason in distress is taught how to appeal for help — it would be unthinkable if an appeal was stressed and its answer not be made mandatory.

But it is not expected or taught that either the brother or the lodge must grant relief without real necessity, or beyond the power of either to do without creating a distress greater than that they would ameliorate.

The Right of Relief presupposes a request for relief; a lodge is not supposed to offer relief unasked. Hence the Right of Relief also imposes a duty; he who is in distress (for instance, unable to pay his dues) should so state rather than be dropped, and not wait until the lodge learns too late.

None deny the Right of Demission, by which a member requests a demit (or a certificate of transfer) by which he may transfer his membership from the lodge in his present location, to another, in the location in which he is to be.

The very fact that some grand lodges provide a certificate of transfer instead of a demit (by which a brother remains a member of the old until elected to the new lodge) indicates that such grand lodges are interested in granting permission to leave one lodge, in order to join another.

When demission is asked for as a severance from the Fraternity, most grand lodges hold that both good Masonic law and ethics dictate that no lodge may against his will hold a member in good standing, with no charges preferred or pending against him. It is by these considered that as a man became a Freemason first by an act of his own free will and accord, he has the same right, of his own free will and accord, to ask for release and the lodge is bound to grant it.

A few grand lodges will not grant a demit unless for the purpose of the brother joining a new lodge. He can, then, sever his connection from the Fraternity only by refusal to pay dues and being dropped, N.P.D.

This Bulletin is not the place to discuss the arguments pro and con for either of these standpoints, except to chronicle that the great majority are on the side of the brother having a right to ask for and receive his demit, no matter for what reason he asks it. In either event, the Right of Demission is universally recognized, even if hedged about with more restrictions in some grand jurisdictions than in the majority.

Whether the so-called Right of Burial is really a right or a privilege is a moot point and probably always a matter of point of view. Universally a Master Mason in good standing may be buried by his brethren if he has expressed a wish for the ceremony to the master of his lodge.

Actually, if he has expressed such a wish to anyone, and his family knows it and communicates this desire to the master, Masonic burial follows as a matter of course.

According to Mackey no Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft and no suspended or expelled Mason may be Masonically buried. With this legalistic point of view — and Mackey’s arguments are difficult to controvert — some grand lodges take exception, bury Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts and have even buried Masons suspended for N.P.D. These cases, of course, have been hardship matters in which refusal would seriously hurt a family or the memory of a brother not really at fault.

It is a matter of interest and, to some, curiosity, that in a funeral procession of Master Masons in a lodge open on the Master Mason Degree for the purpose of burying an Entered Apprentice or a Fellowcraft, neither Fellow-crafts nor Entered Apprentices may be, even in the public procession.

Among the most important of rights listed by Mackey is that of Trial. In a Masonic lodge or grand lodge or Trial Commission, it is, as in civil life, by a jury of the accused’s peers.

No brother may be sentenced and punished for a Masonic offense by authority alone; it must be by means of judgment made and provided by grand lodge. This is either trial in open lodge, or trial by Trial Commission (of which there are many varieties, brought into being in various ways, but always by Masonic authority).

The Right of a Trial, with defending counsel and the use of witnesses, is inalienable. It is pleasant to chronicle that the majority of all trial bodies in Masonry give the broadest latitude to the accused, in receiving testimony and argument, and that after any brother has used his Right of Trial when charged with an offense, he has the last and final hope, of appeal to grand master or grand lodge.

The Right of Appeal is the natural, human, as well as (in this country) legal right to appeal from the decision of a lesser authority to that of a greater. Any brother has a right to appeal to the grand master or grand lodge from the decision of a master in his own lodge, or the determinations of a lodge or Trial Commission in a Masonic trial.

In legal circles appeal is usually to a higher court that may judge only upon the law, or the evidence submitted in the lower court, but does not itself hear new evidence.

In a Masonic appeal the grand lodge is not only the supreme court of Masonry, but can also become the court of original jurisdiction, since an appeal, if it carries new evidence, will be heard by the same grand lodge that hears appeals presented without new evidence.

In all cases, the Right of Appeal from the decision of lesser authority to that of the greatest authority in a grand lodge is universally recognized as being inalienable and vitally important to Freemasonry’s conception of the fourth Cardinal Virtue.

The Masonic Service Association of North America