Most every state's grand lodge publishes literature that says something to the effect of "Freemasonry is not a religion...."
On this blog and numerous other sites on the web, Masons are constantly replying to comments, usually from rabid anti-Masons, explaining that the fraternity is not a religion.
Guess what? As of October 3, 2007, according to the California Court of Appeals, we are a religion! And we can thank the Scottish Rite for making it official.
In the late 1950's, the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association of Los Angeles (SRCALA) requested and received a zoning variance to build a massive four-story Masonic facility, which includes a banquet room that will hold 1,800 people and an auditorium that seats 2,020, lodge and meeting rooms, as well as an adjoining parking lot. The property is on Wilshire Blvd., and borders on the affluent Hancock Park neighborhood.
With available land at a premium, the SRCALA requested, and was granted, permission to build the parking lot with far fewer parking places than would normally be required for a building project of this size. The variance was granted only because the SRCALA pledged that the building would not be rented out for commercial enterprises and that the sole use of the building would be for Masonic, charitable and non-profit events.
Almost from the beginning, when the building was completed in 1963, the SRCALA began renting out the facility for private functions, and by the 1970s, as Masonic membership began to noticeably fall, they began to rely on renting out the building as a means of making enough money to cover the expense of building upkeep.
And the neighbors began to complain. The unintended use of the building had become a public nuisance because of noise and trash and traffic and parking congestion on the residential streets.
In 1979 the SRCALA was told by the city they would have to file for a zoning variance, but the group ignored the order. In the 1980's, they were twice cited for zoning violations.
In 1993, the city initiated public nuisance abatement proceedings against the group, citing them again because of numerous complaints about noise, trash and traffic. A hearing concluded the building was a public nuisance, and the zoning commission prohibited the SRCLA from using the property "for any purpose other than for non-profit activities directly related to the purpose and function of the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple."
SRCALA appealed the zoning board's order via the zoning appeals process, and was denied. They then appealed to the city council, and were again denied.
Unable to earn enough money to maintain the facility, SRCALA closed the building.
After nearly 10 years, the SRCALA leased the building to a newly formed limited liability corporation called Los Angeles Scottish Rite Center, LLC (LASRC).
LASRC refurbished the building and immediately began marketing the facility under various names, including the Wilshire Windsor Pavilion, the Wilshire International Pavilion, the International Culture Center, and as the Scottish Rite Temple, advertising the building as a facility to be rented out to the public.
It didn't take long for the neighbors to get riled up again, and by 2003 the city cited the facility not only for being in violation of the 1993 order but also for not getting a business license or paying business taxes but also for failing to obtain necessary police and fire department safety permits.
In 2004, the zoning administrator issued a report re-imposing the 1993 conditions on the new, for-profit corporation, and further stipulated that the facility could now only be used for Masonic purposes, and that they could no longer charge for parking. The city council affirmed the report, and the mayor concurred.
The LASRC paid no attention to the order, and continued with business as usual, hosting boxing matches, concerts and other entertainment events. The LASRC even sold, or allowed to be sold, alcohol without proper permits.
The neighbors howled.
Yet another public hearing was held, this time by the city council, who was miffed that LASRC was not in compliance with their order.
A new order was given: No functions allowed, not even Masonic ones.
Both SRCALA and LASRC appealed. Their appeals were rejected.
In 2005, the groups filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles.
Here's where it gets interesting.
SRCALA and LASRC charged that the city had no right to tell them what to do, because they were protected under the 2000 Federal statute known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act (RLUIPA).
In other words, they said to the city government: "Hands off! We're a religion!"
The Superior Court ruled that RLUIPA did not apply to the LASRC, and that Freemasonry was not a religion, based in part of evidence from a Masonic brochure that said, "The Scottish Rite is a part of the family of Freemasonry.... Freemasonry is the oldest, and by far the largest, fraternity in the world." [Although] "it is religious in nature, it is not a religion."
The Scottish Rite-related groups appealed the Superior Court ruling to the California Court of Appeals.
Last week, the appeals court ruled that yes, Freemasonry is in fact a religion, and falls under RLUIPA and other laws protecting freedom of religion, but sorry... since the private corporation LASRC was the entity in charge of the building, the city's actions weren't based on the appellant being a religion, since the corporation was a business entity, not a Masonic organization, therefore RLUIPA doesn't apply in this case.
So there you go. Thanks to the Los Angeles Scottish Rite, the government now considers Freemasonry a religion. Next time you engage in a conversation with an anti-Mason about whether we're a religion or not, you have one less leg to stand on.
You can read the Appeals Court opinion here.
Now excuse me. I must go bow to the East and pray to Hiram Abiff.
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