Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Small Town Freemasonry — Part 4: Masonic Coverups, Collusion and Cronyism

In September, 2005 I was refused re-entry into a Masonic meeting (though I was an officer) while an “acting” Worshipful Master led a discussion among the Brethren about bringing Masonic charges against me for unMasonic conduct. The charges were bogus, and were never pressed. The threat of the charges was held over my head from September, 2005 until December, 2005, being tabled at each meeting and held over to the next meeting, keeping me ever vigilant and forcing my attendance at each meeting.

Not knowing if or when the charges would actually be preferred or voted upon, I had no opportunity to speak in my defense. I prepared the following speech, and carried it with me to each meeting, so that I might properly and forcefully respond to the charges should they ever be pressed.

It eventually became obvious that the tabling of the matter from meeting to meeting would continue until elections were held in early December. The plan was to shame me from returning to the lodge, to show me that I was no longer wanted, by not voting me to the next highest office, that of Senior Warden, as would have been customary. I attended each meeting, including the election. I was “un-elected” by a vote of 27-4, where a year earlier, I had been elected to the office of Junior Warden by a near-unanimous vote.

Below is the speech I never got to give. I've changed nothing in the text since I first wrote this in September, 2005 except for shortening personal names to initials. As wrong as some of those mentioned here behaved, there is still no reason to plaster their names across the Internet for all time. Those who were involved know who they were.

Since most of you don't know the people involved, a guide to who's who may be helpful.

W.S. — me, the Widow's Son, the one who writes this blog, and who wrote this speech; Junior Warden at the time of these incidents (2005)
J.W. — the Worshipful Master when I was raised
T.W. — my dear friend and confidante, the man whose exemplary life led me to want to become a Mason
B.S. — immediate Past Master (2004) and Tyler (2005) when these incidents occurred
B.W. — a dear friend, a deceased Past Master (not of my lodge) and Director of Masonic Education (of my lodge). I was appointed Director of Masonic Education after he passed away
I.T. — a Past Master and one of the three Past Masters involved in the “Masonic Ambush” discussed here and elsewhere.
K.E. — a Past Master
D.C.— a now-expelled former brother, who pleaded guilty in State court to “sexual exploitation of a child,” and who pleaded guilty in a Masonic court to two charges of “gross unmasonic conduct” for having sex with a child and for videotaping that act.
B.C. — father of D.C., and a Past Master
B.G. — a Past Master and an officer of the Grand Lodge
W.B.— Worshipful Master (2005) at the time of these incidents
E.J. — Senior Warden (2005) at the time of these incidents
G.W. — Non-mason, attorney for D.C.
G.J. — Secretary of the Lodge
D.J. — Masonic attorney appointed for D.C., not a member of my lodge
J.P. — Member of another lodge, co-founder of the Rose Cross of Gold, a Masonic organization later declared “clandestine” by the Grand Lodge of Georgia
F.A. — Junior Steward and friend

The initials above aren't necessarily the real initials of those involved, except for J.W., T.W. J.P., F.A., and the late B.W., all of whom I highly respect, and D.C and B.C., for whom I have absolutely no respect.

I'm not posting this out of anger or malice. I am simply searching for a sense of closure. I have tried to be a good Mason before, during and since these events. Publishing this blog has helped me maintain a sense of still being a Mason. Many of my non-Masonic friends have asked me why I still care — sometimes I cannot answer, but deep down, I do still care. It's in my nature to try to change things for the better.

I tried to gently (and then not so gently) change things from the inside. It didn't work. Working more radically from the outside to change Freemasonry probably won't work either, but try I must.

Small Town Freemasonry — Part 4: Masonic Coverups, Collusion and Cronyism by the Widow's Son

[Give the grand hailing sign of distress, accompanied by the words — to the East, again to the West, and again to the South.]

Worshipful Master, Brother Senior Warden, and Brethren:

Standing before you this evening is a Master Mason who loves this Fraternity as much as any one of you sitting here. In a few moments, you will be asked to raise your hand to decide his Masonic fate. It's only fitting that we take a few minutes for you to know something about me, something about the issues at hand, the hows and whys of what has happened, and what will happen if Masonic charges are preferred against me. Your uplifted hand voting to press charges against me will set in motion certain events that will alter the course of my life, your lives, and the very nature of this Fraternity.

Three years ago last month in this very room I was raised a Master Mason. I was raised by Worshipful Brother J.W., and symbolically also by my dear friend Brother T.W. These two men exemplify Freemasonry to me. They were my first Masonic Brothers, and both will always hold a special place in my life and my heart.

From the very first day I was raised, I have been an active Mason. I've participated in countless Lodge activities — I've served food and coffee at widow's breakfasts, I've shampooed these carpets on clean-up days, I've been here at 6 a. m. to work the Road Race we sponsor, I've driven many of you to the Rock Quarry event. I've served in every Station in this Lodge, including the East, having conferred the E.A. Degree twice, and I've sat in most of the chairs at _____ Lodge No. ___ as well, so many times that I was given honorary membership there. I am a member of the Royal Arch Chapter and the Council of Royal and Sublime Masters. It was I who made the initial suggestion and motion that led to the installation of the flagpole we now have outside, and to the flagpole dedication ceremony in 2004. I'm the one that keeps buying the new Masonic flags for the pole. I've attempted to create a phone tree and an email list so that we could communicate quickly with our non-attending brethren. I created a printed newsletter for the Lodge in 2003.

Several times, I've taken off work during the middle of the day to attend the funerals of your parents or some of your other relatives.

In my desire to serve this Lodge and all of Freemasonry, I have attended Schools of Instruction three times, I've been to Athens with W. Bro. B.S. to attend an officer's class, and I accepted this Lodge's appointment as Director of Masonic Education when my dear friend W. Bro. Dr. W.B. passed away. Just as Bro. W.B. did before me, I've stood before you many times to bring you an educational message in hopes of enlightening you about our great Fraternity.

In 2002, shortly after I was raised, I was asked by then Master of this Lodge Worshipful Master J.W. to build this Lodge a website. I did so, and that site has garnered awards and congratulatory comments from scores of Brothers from across not just the United States but from around the world.

Please don't think I'm telling you about my accomplishments to boast. I've only done what any good Mason should do — that is, to give of his time and talents to his Lodge and to the Fraternity at large, and to show his Brotherly Love by being a good Friend.

But I am telling you all this so that you understand my dedication to the Craft, and so you realize that I am not one of those 90% of Masons who is a Mason in name only — who never comes to a Lodge meeting, who only joined so he could wear a ring or because his father was a Mason. I became a Mason to serve, and to learn, and to find that elusive Light we only mention during the Rituals.

I have a deep interest in things spiritual and esoteric. Freemasonry promised to teach me that “Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” The last time I tried to discuss symbols in this Lodge, several of you looked like you were asleep, and I was told afterward my lecture was much too long, even though I only used about one-third of the material that I had taken from a printed lecture intended for use in Lodges 100 years ago.

I also have what some might consider a personality flaw. I have a high need for internal consistency. Another word for “internal consistency” is “integrity.” That is, I believe that things should be what they say they are. For example, I “need” for police officers and government officials to be honest and not corrupt, I “need” for medical doctors to be wise and to have their patients' best interest at heart, and I “need” for religious leaders to be sincere and to follow their own religious teachings... and in the case of Freemasonry, I need for Masons to act as Masons.

Yes, I know, I don't always act as I should, either. I'm human. But I certainly do try.

Just as I expect government employees, doctors and religious leaders to be true to their stated world-view, I expect Masons to be true to theirs. I've read and re-read the rule books, the Masonic Code, the Masonic Book of Etiquette, the Worshipful Master's handbook, Mackey's Encyclopedia of Masonry, Wilmshurst's “The Meaning of Masonry” lectures, Albert Pike's “Morals and Dogma,” history books about Masonry, esoteric books about Masonry, and more. I've discovered that Freemasonry – even basic Blue Lodge Masonry – is much more than what usually goes on this Lodge.

And in my role of Director of Masonic Education, I've stood before you in this spot to tell you what I've learned.

Six months ago, during a simple lecture on the principles of Masonry as defined by the Grand Lodge of Georgia, I was shouted down when I mentioned Freemasonry's ban on religious sectarianism in the Lodge. By now, most of you have read or heard about the essay I wrote about that unsettling event. Quite simply, I stated that discussion of Jesus or prayers in his name, or mention of the Baptist world-view, in the Lodge Room is forbidden by Masonic law.

Pages 49 and 50 of the Grand Lodge of Georgia's Book of Masonic Etiquette say in no uncertain words:
Freemasonry is a fraternity. It is not a religion. Its member are presumed to be religious and it operates on the highest and best moral principles taught by all the great religions. But direct or even indirect reference to one's religious preference in a prayer, though inadvertently often done, or the display of a particular religious flag in the confines of a Masonic Lodge, are breaches of good manners and the spirit of Freemasonry, if not of the law itself.

It would be immaterial if all present at the Lodge meeting were all of the same religion and sect, yet this would seem rare and unlikely.... These things are pointed out that we may avoid the violation, in spirit as well as in fact, of one of the most important tenets of Freemasonry.... Our practice seems to show that we are fully aware of the injunction with reference to politics; many do not appreciate fully how our inadvertences in prayer strike some other of our brethren....

For Masons in Lodge to indulge in or practice any form of religious sectarianism is to risk the destruction of the Craft as surely as would be the rule against the discussion of partisan politics in Lodge or participation in partisan politics by the Lodge itself.
Brethren, it doesn't matter if everyone in the Lodge is a Christian — it is improper in a Masonic Lodge to discuss matters of sectarian religion. W. Bro. I.T. and others have stated that I was trying to control how others pray. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm simply acting in my role as Educational Director in pointing out the rules, as well as acting as a Master Mason in giving you all a Masonic nudge.

It's been said, “but that's the way we do it,” and “every Lodge has its personality.”

“That's the way we do it” doesn't wash. If we're doing it against the rules, we should all be brought up on charges of un-Masonic conduct.

The excuse that “every Lodge has its personality” doesn't float, either. Freemasonry is Freemasonry, no matter where a Lodge is found. It follows Ancient Landmarks and customs and rules. The final Ancient Landmark of Freemasonry, after all the other Landmarks are listed, is this: “These rules cannot be changed.” A Georgia Mason should expect to find the same rules being applied and the same rituals and prayers being used, whether he visits [this lodge] or _____ Lodge No. ___ in _______. I've visited that lodge, by the way — they used the prayer printed in the Masonic Manual, the prayer addressed to the Great Architect of the Universe, as all true Masons when in Lodge assembled are instructed to.

I cannot emphasize this point too strongly, since my essay now known as “A Bucket of Rattlesnakes” — the true title was “The Christianization of Freemasonry” — is what has upset so many of you. It does not matter that many of you are devout Baptists — this is not a church. You may be a diehard Democrat or a diehard Republican, and go to meetings and rallies and chant your favorite candidate's name and try to get others to vote for him — but you're not supposed to do it here. And just because you pray to Jesus on Sundays and in your private moments, it doesn't mean you're supposed to do that here, either.

You know this is true. I brought this issue up to W. Bro. K.E. nearly two years ago. He agreed with me. He said, “Brother W.S., yes, you're absolutely right. That's what the rules say. But that's just the way I pray, and I'm not going to change."

Once again, I'm looking for internal consistency. For integrity. If you are going to vote me out of Freemasonry because you think I've violated some rule of Masonry, look first at yourselves, and see how many rules you may have broken.

If I understand correctly, it is charged that my rattlesnake essay “spoke ill of a brother Mason.” Brethren, I can not count the number of times I've heard many of you speak ill of a good Brother. I've seen innumerable breaches of rules and etiquette in this Lodge, much of it — most of it — by Past Masters. Should I bring charges for every infraction I have witnessed? It is my Masonic duty to do so, you know.

Let's turn our attention to another charge made against me, that of not obeying an order from the Worshipful Master.

To get to the bottom of this, we've got to go back to at least January 2005, when D.C., a now-expelled former Mason, once a member of this Lodge, pleaded guilty in criminal court to sexual exploitation of a minor, for having sex with a 16-year old girl. At that time, my only knowledge of D.C. was that he had previously been appointed Junior Deacon of this Lodge, and never showed up, and that in June of 2003, I was “promoted” from Senior Steward to Junior Deacon to fill his station. I'd never met him, nor his father, B.C. I hadn't even read of his plight in the local newspaper.

In February, this Lodge voted to bring charges of Gross Un-Masonic Conduct against D.C., because of his conviction in criminal court and the embarrassment his actions had caused the Lodge.

Masonic Code calls for the Junior Warden to be the officer that officially prefers the Masonic charges. After a vote similar to the one that has led me to stand before you tonight to defend myself, I was ordered by the Lodge to draw up charges against D.C. I did so, basing the Masonic charges on the wording of the criminal charges the government had written. The charges were read to the Lodge, the Lodge voted, and a few months later, a pre-trial conference was held in this Lodge, which most of you did not attend.

There was much discussion amongst members of this Lodge of giving D.C. a demit, of trying to “make it all go away.” In a private discussion with two Past Masters of this Lodge, I heard it said, “Oh, that's just the way ol' D. is.” Several of you over the last nine months have privately told me that you regret not blackballing D.C. when his petition was first read. Again, I emphasize that I did not know the C.'s, but I got the distinct impression that D.C. had been admitted to our Fraternity simply because he is B.C.'s son.

Though I cannot recall his presence in this Lodge for a Regular Communication even once in the time I've been a Freemason, I have seen recently the power that B.C. seems to have over some of you. He seemed to really be enjoying himself as he sat in our meeting a month ago, while Worshipful Brother B.G. discussed pressing charges against me. Was it just a coincidence that D.C.'s first and only appearance in a regular meeting in at least three years was that particular evening? You decide.

One Brother said to me recently, “Brother W.S., I'm sorry this is happening. But this is what happens when you step on the toes of the Big Dogs.” Yes, he was right... but I thought there weren't supposed to Big Dogs and Little Dogs here, that we were all equals.

Following my understanding of the Masonic Code, after this Lodge brought charges, I posted the fact that D.C. had been charged on the Lodge website.

A few weeks later, I received a frantic phone call from a Past Master of this Lodge, demanding that I remove information from the website. I removed the name of D.C.'s victim, though her name was a part of the public record, because at the time, that's all the upset Brother seemed to be worried about.

A few hours later, he called back and demanded I remove all of the information. I refused.

I immediately called our Lodge's Worshipful Master Brother W.B., and he and I and later Senior Warden E.J. met to discuss the matter. According to the Grand Lodge's rules, information on a Lodge website is under the direction of the Worshipful Master and the webmaster, not a committee, not the Lodge as a whole, and certainly not a Past Master. Brothers W.B., E.J. and I met and decided, however, that we would discuss the issue in front of the Lodge, and ask the Lodge to vote on the question of whether the information about charges being brought should be posted or removed from the website before the trial was held.

When I arrived for the next evening's Lodge meeting, I was immediately requested to go into the Preparation Room with three Past Masters, already dressed in their aprons. Standing before me was probably 100 years' worth of Masonic experience — I was duly impressed, and a bit intimidated, for here were men whom at the time I respected.

I was told — not asked — three times to remove the information from the website. I refused, and told them that the duly elected officers of the Lodge — Brothers W.B., E.J., and myself — had discussed it and were going to put it to a Lodge vote. A lot was said about how they didn't want me to be embarrassed at losing a vote, and they didn't want to embarrass B.C. I told them his son had already done that.

Early on Saturday morning, June 18 of this year, a pre-trial conference about the charges against D.C. was held in this room, with very few brothers in attendance. Through some misunderstanding, the Ninth District did not send a prosecuting attorney, so at the last moment, it was demanded of me, as the Lodge's Junior Warden, to act as prosecutor, though I had only attended this hearing as an interested observer.

D.C. pleaded guilty to the charges, and only then did his attorneys rise to speak on his behalf. You can read my account of what they had to say elsewhere; I'll not go into it, other than to say that one of their “defenses” was that in Georgia, it was once legal to screw 14-year old girls, and that only time had made what was once legal now illegal, and that it was the 16-year old's fault, not C.'s, that he had gotten into trouble.

D.C. himself then rose and faced the brethren who had attended. With tears on his face he said “I'm sorry” a few times, once that he had brought shame on the Lodge, once that he was sorry that he had embarrassed his father.

The Trial Commission excused themselves to deliberate, and quickly returned and pronounced the sentence of expulsion on D.C.

After the session broke up, I began moving chairs we had used in the proceeding back into the dining hall. As I turned around, B.C. was standing in my face. He growled at me, “I hope you're happy.” It was obvious that he believed I had some personal motivation in all this. I did not, at that time, have any personal feelings in this at all.

But believe me — I do now.

As I broke away from B.C.'s angry words, the Trial Commissioner took me aside and said, “I saw what happened. That was very un-Masonic conduct on his part. You could file charges against him.”

I shrugged and continued carrying chairs.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, I had moved all the tables and chairs back to the dining hall, and had cleaned up the area, washed out the coffeepots, and was ready to go home. I sat in the anteroom talking with Worshipful Brother W.B. for a few moments. When we went outside, Worshipful Brother G.J., Brother E.J., the non-Masonic attorney G.W., and the C.'s, were standing around. Immediately, D.C. began shouting at me, and trying to make his way through Brothers G.J. and E.J. to get at me. He threatened me with bodily harm several times, with legal action, called me several names, and screamed that I wasn't worthy to be a pimple on his father's ass. I am grateful that Brothers G.J. And E.J. were standing between us.

Finally, B.C. literally dragged his son away, shouting at him, “You promised you wouldn't do this, you promised you wouldn't do this.” Again, this showed that both of them think I had a personal interest in this matter.

I went home and documented on paper what had just happened. And since I had just heard the Masonic Trial Judge proclaim D.C.'s expulsion — I put that information on our Lodge's website.

I also telephoned a Brother not present — an influential man who knows everyone involved — to ask his suggestions and opinions. I asked him, “Should I be afraid of D.C.? Is he truly a violent person? Should I file criminal charges of assault and terroristic threats? Should I bring Masonic charges against B.C.?” His answer shocked me. He said, referring to himself, “I wouldn't wanna get tangled up in that crowd!” Believe me, I didn't sleep well that night, and locked my doors for the first time since I'd moved to _____, seven years ago. I also loaded my weapons; I didn't know what I had stumbled into. The C.'s needed someone to blame for their own problems — and they apparently had set their sights on me.

I won't spend any more time talking about D.C. I don't believe he's worth discussing any further. I simply put the information about his Masonic conviction for Gross Un-Masonic Conduct on the Lodge's website to follow Masonic Code section number 77-142, which says:
Public announcement of the conviction of a Mason is not un-Masonic conduct, especially when the commission of the offense was well known to the community and tended to discredit the Craft. Publicity of such results may be effective of good.
Almost immediately, Brother G.J. emailed me asking me to remove the information, saying the Trial Commission had given D.C. 30 days in which to appeal. I complied, removing the information once again. After 30 days, I put it back online. Again, Brother G.J. asked me to remove it, this time saying he thought, and I emphasize that he said he was not sure, that D.C. wasn't “really” expelled until the Grand Lodge met in October. But again, following his request, I removed it.

Then, back in September, before Grand Lodge met, Bro. D.J., the Mason who had been appointed as D.C.'s Masonic attorney, attended our Lodge as a visitor. I should point out that in his role as Ninth District Trial Defense Commissioner, Bro. D.J. will most likely be appointed as my Masonic attorney should you vote to bring charges against me when I'm finished speaking here tonight. I spoke with Bro. D.J., and he informed me that indeed, D.C. was already expelled. No further action was needed by the Grand Lodge, according to him.

With that assurance from someone who should know, I once again put the information about D.C.'s conviction on the website, acting in my role as webmaster, and as a Mason doing his duty according to Code section number 77-142.

In everything I've done regarding this whole D.C. situation, until recently, I've acted with honor and in a Masonic manner, trying to do my duty to the Brotherhood and this Lodge.

On the day the Grand Master visited us, I started acting human. Because I have an ego. Because I have feelings. And because I felt hurt, extremely hurt, by members of this Lodge. If feeling hurt, and acting human, is what you want to bring charges against me for — then go ahead.

I have no way to prove this — and there is the possibility, though extremely low — that I am wrong. But this is how I interpreted certain events that happened after the Grand Master left our Lodge on Sept 27, 2005.

As the Lodge Room was clearing of our guests, we all stood around chatting. It was late, but we had more business to attend to in private session. Voting was scheduled on a petition for joining our Lodge, and as that petitioner is a friend of mine, I was eager to stay and participate in the vote.

Still dressed in my officer's regalia, I left the at-ease Lodge room for a quick trip to the restroom. As I passed the Tyler, I jokingly said, “Don't let 'em start without me.” He laughed, and mumbled okay.

Not 45 seconds later, I came out of the restroom only to see that the door had been closed, and the Tyler B.S. would not let me pass. I said, “I asked you to not let them start.” The Tyler B.S. laughed and said, “I'm just the lowly Tyler.” Dozens of times I've seen the Master ask the Tyler to request Brothers who are not in the Lodge Room to come in, giving them ample time before the door is sealed.

Oddly, that didn't happen this time, though more than one brother knew I was still on the premises, and intended to be in the Lodge Room.

I chose to go home. I was tired.

An hour later, I received a phone call from the Junior Steward, Brother F.A., telling me that he was calling to relay a message from the Acting Master of the Lodge B.G. that night, demanding that I remove the D.C. information once again from the website, as well as links to what was called a “Red Lodge.”

I had no idea what links were being referred to, and I was miffed that an order of such apparent importance was being relayed through the junior-most officer in the Lodge. If it was so important, and had to be done right away, why didn't the acting Master, or the regular Master, or another Senior officer, call me?

And while we're talking about acting Masters, I'd like to point out that according to Code section 23-103, it appears that if the sitting Master of our Lodge chose not to preside over the Lodge, then the Senior Warden or Junior Warden should have been acting as Master that night. That a Past Master who is a member of the Grand Lodge had officiated during the open meeting in which the Grand Master was present was a matter of courtesy, and under this Code section, he should have returned the gavel to our Lodge's elected Worshipful Master or one of the Wardens before the business meeting was called back on. This particular code section is so important that it is actually considered one of the original Landmarks of Freemasonry.

I later heard that the acting Master appeared to have had the door sealed immediately after I went out to the restroom. I later heard that as soon as the door was shut, the discussion immediately turned to me and the website, and once a vote was taken to demand that I make changes to the website, and a committee to oversee the website was discussed, only then was it acknowledged that I might still be on the premises, and someone sent to find me.

As I said, this is partly speculation, backed up by confidential sources from inside the Lodge Room, but it is what I believed at the time, and still believe. I believe there was a planned attempt at discussing the matter without me being present, that my being locked out was orchestrated. If that is true, then all who participated in such a conspiracy are guilty of extremely un-Masonic conduct.

I could be wrong. I'm human. But I felt mistreated. I felt that certain people within our Lodge had some unknown-to-me relationships that made placating B.C. more important than letting me do my Masonic duty in publicizing the facts as directed by Code section number 77-142. More than once someone has claimed that publicizing the fact that D.C. has been convicted of a sex crime against a minor is “airing the Lodge's dirty laundry.”

Under orders to remove the information and links from the website, I did what most people would do who were angry — I over-reacted. I said to myself, “Screw this!” and I took down the entire website. I had created, designed, maintained and paid for it... yes, my ego took over, my feelings were hurt, and I responded in a less than perfect manner. Would you have done any differently?

I justified my actions by telling myself that by taking down the site I was technically obeying the order. The information was no longer there.

A few hours later I realized that hundreds of Brother Masons across the world regularly enjoyed reading the Lodge website, and that I should perhaps tell them why it had been taken down. That's why I created the blog “The Burning Taper,” to tell of how I had been locked out by my Lodge, how I had been violently threatened by an expelled Mason, and how I had been verbally abused by members of this Lodge months before, when I gave the lecture on Grand Lodge rules about speaking of Jesus in open Lodge. Yes, I was feeling low, feeling betrayed by this Lodge, and perhaps I didn't act with proper restraint.

But nothing I said, or did, or wrote, was illegal or un-Masonic. Your charges say I “spoke ill” of a Master Mason. Reporting that you didn't act in a civil manner when I spoke about the rules against discussion of sectarian religion in this Lodge is not speaking ill of you — it's simply a fact. In the face of a fact — a rule from our Code – you guys went crazy, which is what led someone who witnessed what happened that night to say I had kicked over a bucket of rattlesnakes.

Links on the Lodge website to a “Red Lodge” have been mentioned in your accusations. I wonder if most of you know what a Red Lodge is. There's nothing evil, or un-Masonic, and certainly not “clandestine” about it. Lodges in Louisiana practice Red Lodge Masonry, as do some Lodges in several other states. Red Lodge Masonry simply hearkens back to France, not England, which is where Blue Lodge Masonry comes from. Several south Georgia Lodges in the 1800's practiced Red Lodge rituals. It's no big deal; it's just not as common as Blue Lodge Masonry.

W. Bro. B.G., a member of the Grand Lodge of Georgia and of this Lodge, and the man behind these charges against me, is most likely thinking of the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold when he talks about Red Lodges. Since it is he, not me, who has brought up this subject, I want to simply tell you this, no matter what rumor you may have heard to the contrary: the Brethren of the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold are honorable men, are Master Masons made in regular Lodges, and are simply wanting to practice Masonry in a manner that is historical, ethical, interesting, and certainly not clandestine. They do not make Masons, and they do not confer the Three Degrees; they are simply an appendant body of Freemasons, having as much right to exist as the Scottish Rite or the York Rite. Their organization simply has not been recognized by the Grand Lodge of Georgia. By definition, only a Lodge — not an appendant body — can even be called clandestine. That was settled way back in 1935, according to the Masonic Service Association.

Think about your obligation. It talks about clandestine Lodges and those made in such a Lodge. It doesn't say anything about appendant bodies. Rites and other appendant bodies don't make Masons; they instruct them.

Simply calling something clandestine doesn't make it clandestine any more than calling an apple an orange makes an apple an orange; not even the Grand Lodge has the authority to change a Landmark, or a definition. See Code section numbers 1-201 and 71-101 regarding the Grand Lodge's inability to change a Landmark or definition, and see Code section number 23-132 for the Grand Lodge of Georgia's own correct definition of “clandestine.” Code section 1-202 further says that the Grand Lodge is charged with preserving the traditions of Freemasonry. There is no historical or traditional basis for calling a group of regular Masons clandestine.

Ironically, and fittingly, I want to thank Brother B.G. for telling me about the Brethren in the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold. I had never heard of it, or anyone involved with it, until one day in 2003, when Brother B.G. said to me, “Do you know J.P.?” I said no, I don't. Bro. B.G. replied, “You stay away from him. He's a troublemaker.” Those words about a Mason that I didn't even know are mighty close to “speaking ill of a Brother Master Mason,” but who was I to challenge a member of the Grand Lodge, even though it sounded like slander to me, which, by the way, is a violation of Code section number 77-110.

I am, however, a naturally curious sort, and it should come as no surprise that eventually Bro. J.P. and I met each other. We have become friends, and I have found him to be a decent and conscientious Mason whom I am proud to call Brother. I have since met or communicated with many other so-called clandestine members of the RRCG, and have found them to be honorable and true Masonic brothers as well.

Talking about Red Lodges is really off the topic, but since it's mentioned in your charges against me, I thought you should know the truth about the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold. Please don't just take my word for it, though. Check them out. For more information, go online to

In closing, let me very quickly touch upon five points.

First, thank you for allowing me to speak my mind. This is probably the last time I will stand before you to speak. You've indicated that my educational lectures are either too long, too esoteric, or just too controversial.

Second, I want to say this. I love most of you as Masonic brothers, and will strive to uphold my obligations to you. A few of you, however, I just no longer trust, and I prefer not to associate with you.

Third — The charges against me are frivolous. They are inspired out of a need for power and retaliation from some of you. Those bringing these charges are acting no better than I did when I was angry and hurt.

Fourth — The charges, if you choose to bring them against me, will be fought, both within Freemasonry and in the criminal and civil courts if necessary. And the charges will be met with charges of my own against Brothers in this Lodge and elsewhere. The charges may not stick, and they may not even be accepted by the Lodge. But they will be well publicized both within Masonry and in the public arena. These charges came about because you didn't want to air the Lodge's dirty laundry. Do you want the airing of this dirty laundry as well?

Fifth — I don't want to go through this, and I don't want to put the Lodge through this. I do not want to bring charges against anyone. I prefer to walk away, with my Masonic status intact. Obviously I do not belong in this Lodge; one Brother has even gone out of his way to let people know that I don't fit in here because I “read too much.” No, I don't fit in at _______ Lodge No. ___, but I certainly do belong in Freemasonry, and I will fight to maintain my status as a Master Mason. I am asking for a Letter of Good Standing. So far, you have denied me that, based on a rule you found in the Code saying an appointed officer could resign and receive a Letter of Good Standing, but an elected one like me can't. Fine — I'm all for obeying the Code. But if you obey part of it, why do you not obey all of it?

I have done nothing wrong, nothing criminal, and to my mind, nothing un-Masonic. In our Entered Apprentice degree, someone always speaks of forgiveness, of not casting the first stone. I am not without sin, but neither are any of you. I did not cast the first stone. But I must assure you, my Brothers, that I will cast stones back if you choose to bring these frivolous charges against me. Everything “un-Masonic” I have ever heard or seen will be exposed. After all, it's my Masonic duty, too, just as some of you think it is yours to press these charges against me.

Thank you for your time and attention, my Brothers. It has been my honor and privilege to sit with you in Lodge, and to serve you as your webmaster, as your Director of Masonic Education, as your Steward, as your Junior and Senior Deacon, as your Junior Warden, as your Acting Senior Warden and on two occasions, as your Acting Worshipful Master. It has been my honor to call you Friend, and to call you Brother. I am sorry that you think I have done you wrong, and I wish that I didn't believe that some of you have done me wrong.

Oh, one last thing, another rule from the Code book, this time Code section number 29-101. It simply says, “Every member present must vote on every question before the Lodge, unless he be personally interested therein or be excused by the Worshipful Master.” If you want me out of Freemasonry, if you want charges brought against me, then raise your hand when the vote is called. If you don't want me and this Lodge to go through this, then raise your hand to say no. But please, don't just sit there like so many of you do when a vote is taken and not commit to something. We're Masons. Let's act like it.

[Give the grand hailing sign of distress, accompanied by the words — to the East, again to the West, and again to the South.]

Drawing of religious zealots attacking young man by Al

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Ideas are like fishing, and desire is the bait

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Masonic decline: "We discourage enterprise and imagination"

W. Bro. Tim Bryce's recent article Masonic Membership: Quantity vs. Quality, was published on many sites and generated more comments than any article he has written, Bro. Tim recently wrote. His latest article, More on Masonic Membership, is a compliation of these comments.

The following comment, from an anonymous brother in Florida, pretty well hit the proverbial nail on the head about the problems of Masonry and perhaps outlines the remedies, too.
Tradition, especially in Freemasonry, is a double edged sword. No one can argue the value of our time honored traditions as the keystones of our Brotherhood. Our ritual work and common practices are the foundation of our Fraternity and have stood the test of time by generations of Freemasons everywhere. The reason for having done so is that they are right. But not all things rooted in tradition that we embrace are so right that they can't stand some introspective from time to time. Our new members are attracted to us because of our long standing traditions but once inside the Lodge they see things that have become problematic to the craft in the name of tradition and are confused by our inability as a body to address them. The arguments against the necessary changes seem weak , especially when those presenting them cloak themselves in the righteous shroud of traditionalism. We would all still be driving a horse and buggy if we had accepted that kind of reasoning a hundred years ago but wiser, more progressive ideas prevailed. This is not to say we should throw out the baby with the bath water and abandon any of our worthwhile ideals. But much of our approach to solving problems has become our inability to think outside of the box because of our fear of defying tradition, even outdated and useless tradition.

If we are on the decline it is because we discourage enterprise and imagination. No one wants to be a part of something these days that is stagnant. This isn't the 17th, 18th, 19th or even the 20th century anymore. Computers and modern communications allow us all to exchange ideas without restriction and explore avenues we never imagined. The old restrictions against color and gender are gone in the digital world of the 21st century. E-mails and text messaging have no race or creed. Yet we embrace a policy of discrimination against many prospective members in the name of tradition. We refuse to embrace the social changes that have come about because they were morally right and cling to arguments that seem simply outdated when presented as tradition.

Despite our outdated prejudices, we are getting both quality and quantity through our doors as new Masons these days. Many of those new members to our fraternity are eager to bring progressive ideas to us and help fix the things that are destroying us from within. But they become confused about what they have become a part of when they meet those who denounce their ideas because they defy their concept of traditionalism. After a while the new members become discouraged and find another outlet for their energies. Unlike years ago, there are many organizations today who will allow them to exercise their imagination and welcome them as a useful part of a growing entity.

We are declining because of what we have let ourselves become. It isn't the fault of those who come to seek us out; it is the fault of those who would not unlock the traditional door and allow them all the way in.

— A Brother in Riverview, Florida

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Planet of the Crazy Apes

In a parallel universe, seven-year-old Myles Rees will grow up to be an accomplished British Shakespearean stage actor, then move to New York and win a Tony on Broadway. He'll reprise his role in Hollywood and win an Oscar for best actor.

Unfortunately, in our Bizarro world, he was born to a stupid, oversensitive, small-minded bigot of a mother, and young Myles will probably grow up to be a crack addict with a bad attitude toward "whitey."

Myles is black. Excuse me for not being more politically correct. I don't know what black people call themselves in England... African-British, maybe?

Anyway... Myles and another black student — and three white students — were assigned roles in their school's production of the play An Enchanted Island.

Their roles? Monkeys.

Myles's mother, Lorraine Rees, calls the school's asking Myles to play a monkey "racist."

She has demanded an apology from the school.

"Everyone is aware of the racist connotations of asking a black pupil to play a monkey," she complained to a reporter from the Guardian Unlimited.

"I think what the school have [sic] done is definitely racist and should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. It is just not acceptable.

"There is no way that black pupils should even be asked to play monkeys in any type of play.

"My son is very upset by all of this. He had wanted to play the part of a hunter but was told he would have to play the part of a monkey."

There you have it... her child didn't get the role he wanted, and she's playing the "race card" in retaliation.

Poor Myles. He coulda been a contender.

Image: It's a WHITE monkey.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Humans "lack the light to show the way. For this reason I have sent them you, my only son."

Reprinted from Born Jesus.

Is Superman a Christ figure? Well, duh!

An Associated Press story today asks that question.

Director Bryan Singer, who is Jewish, said the notion of Superman as a Christ figure is simply another case of contemporary storytelling borrowing from ancient motifs.

In other words, it's just as Joseph Campbell said: It's all One Story, that of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In the newest version of the Superman saga, Superman Returns, which opens next week, Kal-El (the born-name of Superman, and hey, "El" is a name of God in the Old Testament) hears his father tell him he has been sent to Earth because humans "lack the light to show the way. For this reason I have sent them you, my only son."

Before being kidnapped by villain Lex Luthor, Lois Lane assures Superman, "The world doesn't need a savior, and neither do I."

Luthor — a Loki/Lucifer-like character if ever I saw one — said, "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind."

Kal-El is truly a "Born Jesus"!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

No cash? No card? Just give 'em the finger!

A convenience store has installed Florida's first bioemetric payment system. Just stick in your finger to pay.

No cards, no PINS. It's called Pay by Touch. Just give 'em the finger and go.

"People either love it or think it's a sign of the coming apocalypse," said Amer Hawatmeh, owner of the new Coast to Coast Family Convenience in Tampa, who signed up a few hundred customers for Pay By Touch. "But to me, it's the wave of the future."

Other Futurama payment methods include a card you wave in the general vicinity of a cardreader. And wireless systems in use in other countries use built-in payment system prompts broadcast to and from a cell phone to activate vending machines.

Wave your mouse here to read the full story.

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Have a great summer!

Today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere.

The summer solstice is an astronomical term regarding the position of the sun in relation to the celestial equator. At the time of the summer solstice, Earth is at a point in its orbit where one hemisphere is most tilted towards the sun, causing the sun to appear at 23.45 degrees above the celestial equator, thus making its highest path across the sky. The summer solstice is the day of the year with the longest daylight period and hence the shortest night. This day usually occurs on June 21/June 22 in the northern hemisphere and on December 21/December 22 in the southern hemisphere. The actual date changes due to differences between the calendar year and the tropical year.

An excellent article on the meaning of St. John the Baptist's Day, now on June 24 but traditionally on the date of the summer solstice, can be found at Masonic Traveler's blog. The other St. John, the Evangelist, has a celebration day on the Winter Solstice.

A Mason should remember that many of the symbols of Freemasonry as well as of Christianity and other religions are reflections of what happens in the sky. The Saint John days mark the solstices. Man has added the spiritual symbolism. As above, so below.

Have a great summer!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Inside the Masons

The magazine U.S. News and World Report presented an interesting article last September called "Inside the Masons." The article provides some in-depth history regarding the Morgan Affair, the Anti-Mason Party of the 19th century, and more.

The downside? Once again, we see the press quoting Bro. Brent Morris of the Scottish Rite, as if he were the "official" spokesman for all of Freemasonry. I'm sure Bro. Morris knows his Masonic history, but after seeing him giving away all the "secrets" on the History Channel's "Mysteries of the Freemasons" earlier this month, I would hope Freemasonry could offer up a new spokesman with a bit more decorum.

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Grand Lodge vs. Blue Lodge: Who serves who?

Grand Lodge vs. Blue Lodge: Who Serves Who? by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS

Masons have been meeting upon the level and parting on the square well before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 (the first "Grand Lodge"). The invention of the Grand Lodge system was inevitable as it afforded Masons a means to administer Freemasonry on a consistent basis to suit local customs and cultural requirements. Establishing Grand jurisdictions to conform with political boundaries makes sense in that it allows Masons to legally operate under the particular laws of the state they are living.

This brings up an important point — the Grand Lodge system was originally designed to serve administrative purposes only. In other words, it is a servant of the Craft, not the other way around. It has long been understood that the authority over the activities of a local particular Lodge (aka Blue or Craft Lodge) primarily resides in the officers and members of the particular Lodge itself, not the Grand Lodge. However, over the years, we have seen a transition whereby the authority of the Grand Lodge supersedes the particular Lodge, thereby they serve the Grand Lodge and not the reverse.

Let me give you an example: I recently returned from our Grand Communications which, as most of you know, is intended to elect new Grand Lodge officers and vote on legislation. This particular Grand Communications annoyed the Craft greatly. I heard it described by delegates as the worst communications in recent memory, a model of inefficiency, a farce, the "Grand Master's Coronation" and the "Grand Waste of Time" (and these are the kinder adjectives without the expletives). Why the disgruntlement? Because delegates felt their time and expense were taken for granted by the Grand Lodge. Had the Grand Master wanted to conduct the true business of the Grand Lodge in one day, he could have easily done so if he wanted. He didn't. Instead, the Craft suffered through endless introductions, was bored to death by committee reports as preprinted and included in the delegate's packet of materials, and put to sleep by several unrelated speeches intended to pad time. To add insult to injury, little was accomplished in terms of legislation and the status quo was safely guarded again for another year. In other words, no progress was made. The Craft was so incensed by the Communications, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a sharp decline in attendance next year.

Regardless of the outcome, what disturbed me the most was the total lack of consideration for the Craft, only for the Grand Lodge officers. Brothers sacrificed a national holiday and a work day to attend a meeting that squandered their time. It wasn't the Craft that was glorified, it was the Grand Line. My response to this was, "Haven't we got this backwards?" It seems to me that instead of having humble servants of the Craft, we have created a Royal Family that answers to nobody.

The true power of Freemasonry belongs to the particular Lodge, not the Grand Lodge which should be nothing more than an administrative function. When it oversteps its authority and usurps the authority of the particular Lodge unnecessarily, than we have an unsavory situation emerging.

For those who believe in the tyrannical power of the Grand Lodge, I have two words of advice: Remember Runnymede.

Keep the Faith.

NOTE: As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

Article reprinted with permission of the author and "FreeMason Information."

— Bro. Tim Bryce

Image: John Kavanaugh, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Florida, 2006

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

What's new in the Masonic blogosphere?

There has been a flurry of activity in the Masonic blog world lately. Here's a rundown of the Masonic edifices being built:

  • Ars Masonica is publishing in stops and starts lately. Looks like he's been busy offline. Bro. Richard was recently appointed District Deputy Grand Master of the Onondaga District of New York state. Congrulations, Bro. Richard. He also has a new line of mugs and t-shirts with his Ars Masonica logo on them. Go buy something.
  • Bro. Greg at Masonic Traveler recently posted an excellent article on the Holy Saints John, the patrons saints of Freemasonry. June 24th is St. John the Baptist Day, once an important Masonic date but now almost universally ignored by American Freemasons. Bro. Greg has also opened a web store, selling items with the Masonic Traveler logo. Buy something from him, too.
  • Alabama Free Mason has recently posted a series of articles on old Masonic buildings around the country that are up for sale or have been sold or torn down recently, as well as articles discussing what makes a lodge, the building or the men involved.
  • Also from Alabama, the Temple of Regulus blog posts announcements about the new Modern Masonry lodge recently formed in Birmingham, Alabama, and articles about Modern Freemasonry. Best wishes to those men in their endeavors.
  • Grand Lodge of Alabama Facts blog has republished an article from July, 2005 telling of a 30+ year Scottish Rite Mason convicted last year of embezzlement of over $200,000 from his organization, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Mobile. Most interesting is a comment from his attorney, who had worked out a deal with the State for minimal jail time and repayment of much of the loss. Apparently, the brethren of the Scottish Rite turned down the offer, giving up reparations so that the culprit would spend more time in prison: "I have never seen a group of such vindictive victims in my life," she said. "These guys are so out for blood, they're working counterproductive to their own interests."
  • Bro. F. Roy Dean-Schlipp is back with a new blog, The Modern Freemasonic Journal. A recent post reveals some backchannel emails between Bro. Dean-Schlipp and Bro. Ed King, the operator of Bro. King's site has set itself up as Grand Knower of All Things Masonic, and has taken a strong (and apparently personal) dislike of anything to do with the new United Grand Lodge of America. Lots of dirt has been flying, both in The Modern Freemasonic Journal and at
  • Bro. King has also set up his own personal blog, Masonic Musings from ME! at, where he takes potshots at "tech-kiddies" in general and the Masonic bloggers specifically, calling the Masonic blogosphere "a vast wasteland." Bro. King apparently can't deal with unpleasant feedback; he has proclaimed his blog comment-free. "I won’t bother with a feedback option: there are already FAR too many disparate places online where one can create a tempest in a teapot if they wish," he wrote in his initial post. Excellent way to keep "peace and harmony," Bro. King — stifle inter-communication so other opinions don't get heard. He also seems to disapprove of Masonic bloggers who are capitalists, that is, who run advertising on their blogs.
  • Bro. Tim Bonney, an American Baptist minister in Iowa, runs a blog that has been promoting Ed King's websites and badmouthing United Grand Lodge of America websites for several months, so I thought we'd give him an honorary mention here, too. Bro. Bonney is another blogger who doesn't like public feedback. He's set his blog Freemasonry Resources to not post comments until he's screened them. I left several thoughtful and polite comments on his blog a few months ago, none of which saw the light of day.
  • Bro. John Ratcliff has lately been posting some very interesting Masonic articles on his blog about how to become a Mason, as well as a humorous but almost universally misunderstood Top Ten list of reasons to not become a Mason. Sadly, also, Bro. John has taken it upon himself to initiate what can only be called a Masonic blog "recognition" game. He has removed the link on his site to this site (The Burning Taper) because of our posting of articles supportive of the United Grand Lodge of America, which Bro. John maintains "doesn't exist," that is, he refuses to "recognize" it. Congrulations to Bro. John are in order as well. He has just been named Junior Warden in his lodge in Missouri. (Hope he doesn't have to get involved in any Masonic trial issues during his tenure as Junior Warden.)
  • Bro. Darren's F. Roy persona is back in hyper-excited mode with the newly resurrected blog Le Chevalier Maconnique.
  • Spartacus is back, and seems to have fallen into a once-a-month posting cycle. In May, he announced he'd been raised as a Master Mason. On June 15, he announced he's been appointed Junior Deacon of his lodge in Wyoming. I congratulate Bro. Jason on his accomplishments. But — I hate to say it — this does show the problems facing Antient Freemasonry lodges throughout the country. For those who don't know, typically (but not always — there are no rules) a man will proceed from office to office, chair to chair, station to station, in one year increments, beginning as Junior Steward. That Bro. Jason, barely raised a month, has been named Junior Deacon, which normally would be "station number 3," shows the general lack of interest conventional Freemasonry has faced for the last several decades. So many chairs, so few people to sit in them. I myself was named Junior Deacon in my blue lodge within six months of being raised, and Bro. John Ratcliff (see above) has become his lodge's Junior Warden (normally station number FIVE!) in a very short time, too.
  • TubalCain420 is the newest Masonic blog I've discovered, coming out of Ohio, I believe. So far it seems to be an eclectic blend of reprinted articles from Freemasonry's hey-day along with current articles from UGLA co-founder Bro. Jeff Peace, who was whited out from his Antient membership by the Grand Lodge of Georgia, and Bro. Tim Bryce, who was censored and who had his Masonic website banned by the Grand Lodge of Florida.
Happy reading!

If I've left anyone out I should have included, just let me know.

Image: Roger Waters Online

Conflicts of interest among the Shriners? (part 3)

This is part three of a continuing series investigating alleged financial improprieties of the Shrine, written by investigative reporter Cassandra (Sandy) Frost.

The Burning Taper published Part 1, "Shriners in Hot Water Again?" on May 14, 2006, and Part 2, "Did Shriners Retaliate against Whistleblower?", on June 17.

Conflicts of Interest? Shriners (part 3) by Cassandra (Sandy) Frost, first published June 15, 2006, by

It’s hard to write a lively story about technical things like conflict of interest for boards of directors and group oversight. What’s important is that the technical is presented in an easy to read, easy to understand format.

To recap, twenty years ago, the Orlando Sentinel discovered that the Shriners were using sick and crippled children to raise money that didn’t find its way to the hospitals. Whistle blower Vernon Hill, himself a Shriner, had heard similar rumblings as he spent time in Shriner Hospital waiting rooms after driving children for treatment. He has spent the past four years asking similar questions and, a year and a half ago, he met and joined forces with Paul Dolnier, a former IRS revenue agent and accountant with a Master’s Degree in taxation.

Dolnier spent six months analyzing Shriners’ tax returns that are now posted and grouped by state on the Charity Watch website at Dolnier’s analysis revealed that the same thing might be happening again. When he had the opportunity, he reported his documented findings to three special investigators from the State of Pennsylvania.

Today, corporate governance and in particular, how boards of directors function, is in the spotlight after companies like Enron and WorldCom were caught committing white collar crime and defrauding investors, clients and employees out of millions. Consequently, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 became law. It calls for both for profit and non profit corporations to establish and enforce, among other things, conflict of interest policies for their boards.

Remember, there are two groups; the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the charitable 501c3 group, and the Shriners Temples, the fraternal 501c10 group. The two are supposed to, per IRS regulations, operate separately and be independent. The fraternal group is incorporated in Iowa; the charitable hospital group is incorporated in Colorado. Both groups have a board of directors; the charitable hospital group also has officers.

For the year 2004 – 2005, both boards had the same 14 men on them. Six of the seven hospital officers also sat on both boards. A call to Shriners headquarters indicated that the board/s of directors’ policies are not available to the public.

According to the Colorado Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act, 7-1228-501, Colorado Revised Statues, a “conflicting interest transaction” is a contract or transaction between two (nonprofit) entities that have the same people serving directors or officers.

The Charities Review Council defines conflict of interest as:

“Outside interests: a contract or transaction between the organization and an entity in which such person is a director, officer, etc.

Outside activities: the responsible person’s serving as a director, officer, for an entity that competes with the organization in the provision of services or in any other contract or transaction with a third party."

The remedy, according to the Charities Review Council, is that the person with the conflict of interest shall not be counted for the purposes of a vote; the person with the conflict of interest may not vote on the contract or transaction and shall not be present in the meeting room when the vote is taken unless it is a secret vote.

The answer to the question “Do those on both boards have a conflict of interest?” seems obvious. Maybe the real question is “What are the Shriners doing to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest among their common board members and officers?”

Additionally, the Shriners (charitable) claim to maintain a separate legal and financial identity from the Shrine temples (fraternal). This “separation” qualifies both for their individual tax-exempt statuses from the IRS.

Yet, according to annual reports filed with the Iowa Secretary of State in June of 1995 and 1996, the fraternal group’s nature of activities engaged in during the past year was described as:

“Fraternal order operating under the lodge system for the exclusive benefits of its members for the purpose of maintaining, controlling and supervising any and all charities, benevolence and charitable hospitals, including Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children, maintained and controlled by the Imperial Council of the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America which may be it hereafter established.

Signed, Jack H. Jones as Secretary”

This supervision and control by the fraternal over the charitable was formalized in the group’s restated Articles of Incorporation that were filed with the Secretary of State in September, 1996. Article III includes items:

“3. To maintain, control, conduct and superintend any and all charities, benevolences and hospitals now established, maintained and controlled by The Imperial Council.

5. To create and maintain a charitable and educational fund, a representative fund, a library fund, an Imperial Council fund, a fund for the purchase, erection, operation and maintenance of Shriners Hospitals for Children, and other benevolences, and any other fund or trust necessary or convenient in carrying out any of the purposes, benevolences or charities now established, or which may be hereafter authorized by the Imperial Council.”

Does this mean that the Shriners temples (fraternal) now control the Shriners Hospitals (charitable) $9 billion in assets?

These questions might be left to others as they look into these two red flag issues. There are more inconsistencies that will be explored in the next few articles but for now the question appears to be:

Are these two standards of governance as they seem?

All copies of material reprinted or duplicated from “by Sandy Frost” must include the following credit line:

From Copyright © 2006 by Sandy Frost. Used by permission.

Part 1: Shriners in hot water again?
Part 2: Did Shriners retaliate against whistleblower?
Part 3: Conflicts of interest among the Shriners?

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Did Shriners retaliate against whistleblower? (part 2)

This is part two of a continuing series investigating alleged financial improprieties of the Shrine, written by investigative reporter Cassandra (Sandy) Frost.

The Burning Taper published Part 1, "Shriners in Hot Water Again?" on May 14, 2006.

Part 1 generated a few posted comments, and a small amount of backchannel chatter, but in general, it was met by the Antient Masonic community with shrugs, denials, and/or heads in the sand.

Part 3 has also now been posted.

Did Shriners Retaliate against Whistleblower? by Sandy Frost, first published June 15, 2006 by

In July, 2003, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was signed into law. It was born of the public’s fury after watching leaders of corporations like Enron rape their workers and customers for private gain and benefit through a new kind of “domestic terrorism.” Enron cooked their books and illegally pursued annual profits rather than maintaining sound business practices.

Maybe Sarbanes-Oxley should have been named “The Ken Lay Act of 2002.”

The law calls for companies to conform to new standards in governance, financial transactions and audit procedures. It calls for the establishment of an independent audit committee, policies that address insider trading and conflicts of interest, spells out the responsibilities of auditors, requires certified financial statements, mandates the disclosure of tax returns in an “easily accessible way,” provides whistle blower protection and addresses document destruction so as to prevent criminal obstruction.

There is talk that the Sarbanes-Oxley act will lead to a similar federal law that will be drawn up for non profits to abide by. For now, there are two provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that apply to non-profit corporations; whistle blower protection and document destruction.

Whistle blowers are protected if they chose to act like Enron’s s former Vice President Sherron Watkins did when she wrote to then-CEO Ken Lay in August 2001 about accounting irregularities, warning him that Enron “might implode in a wave of accounting scandals.” Today, it is illegal for a corporate entity, both for-profit and nonprofit alike, to punish, intimidate or retaliate against the whistle blower in any manner.

Secondly, the Sarbanes-Oxley act makes it a crime for non profit groups to alter, cover up, falsify, or destroy any document (or persuade someone else to do it) to prevent its use in an official proceeding (e.g., federal investigation or bankruptcy proceedings.).

What does Sarbanes-Oxley mean for non profit whistle blowers like Vernon Hill? The past three years, he has questioned both his temple leadership as well as the top corporate leaders about the Shriners financial accountability. According to Hill, his letters and emails have been ignored.

In January, 2002, Hill claims that he was not reappointed and by inference, was “removed” from his position on the temple’s PR committee. On July 25, 2002, the leader of Hill’s Sudan Temple, Potentate Stewart W. Lewis, did get an answer of sorts, in the form of a letter that states:

“Enclosed please find a letter received from one of your nobles (Vernon Hill). I am forwarding this to you for whatever action you deem appropriate.

Fraternally yours,

Charles G. Cumpstone Jr. Shriners executive vice president”

Two years later, in March, 2004, a frustrated Hill wrote to Cumpstone, asking him 25 financial and management questions including:

“Exactly how much money goes to the Shriners Hospitals of every dollar taken in?”

“Please send me a listing for each Imperial Potentates travel allowance for 1995 through 2004.”

“Explain how the immediately Past Potentate for 2002 – 2003 was allowed a total of $126,000 expenses for his 12 month reign?”

“How can you spend a total of $1.6 million for the 2003 Convention and $1.5 million for travel expenses so the corporate officers and temple leaders can attend? Would you advise if this is allowable under the IRS rules for Shriners? Why do the leaders get paid twice?”

“Can any Officers of the 190 temples move money from the transportation fund without any accountability of why and the purpose of? There was a Secretary in Sudan Shriners who was terminated for asking this question and for informing approximately 35 Road runners of this situation…several of us asked the same questions and the leadership refused to provide the answers, as usual.”

“How can a non profit and tax exempt organization legally let ‘secret groups’ (the Royal Order of Jesters and Order of Quetzalcoatl) be involved with the Shriners? Most Shriners are not aware that this goes on and that you have to “be invited and voted on to participate.” One would think that this contradicts the Masonic Oath and Shriners Creed along with the ruling for non profit and tax exempt groups.” (1)

“With reference to the 1986 series of stories done by the Orlando (FL) Sentinel on the Shriners abuse of the money, if an audit was done to see how much is wasted on Officers benefits and fringes, would you be happy? Do corporate and the 190 temples abide 100% by the guidelines and laws of nonprofit organizations?”

Much of the information Hill requested should have been listed on the Shriners annual 990 tax returns or included in financial statements, budgets or annual audits. IRS non profit disclosure law states that when a 501c3 non profit group is asked for such information, they have 30 days to provide it. Two years later, Hill’s questions and requests for financial information have yet to be acknowledged, let alone answered.

Instead Hill received a letter dated May 16, 2004 that said:

“A copy of your letter dated March 2, 2004 to Mr. Charles Cumpstone, Jr., executive Vice President of Shriners International in Tampa, Florida was recently shared at a meeting of the Sudan Roadrunners…the membership voted to remove your name from the Associate Membership List. I regret to inform you that you are no longer a Sudan Roadrunner.

Sincerely, Thomas Forrest, Director, Sudan Shrine Roadrunners.”

The Roadrunners is a unit of volunteer Shriners who drive needy children to and from the Shrine Hospitals for their free medical care. Hill had been a Roadrunner for over two years. He drove over 30,000 miles as he transported about 100 sick and needy children to Shriners Hospitals in Greenville, South Carolina and Cincinnati, Ohio. He is passionate about helping the needy children get to the hospitals because he knows the high costs of getting sick.

This is the second Shriner committee that Hill had been “removed” from.

“I was treated for colon cancer five years ago,” he revealed. “I know how scary going to the hospital can be, not only for the kids, but for us adults too. It breaks my heart to think that when we work so hard to raise money for the hospitals, it might not be going to help these sick little kids who really truly need it. How many more sick little children could we help if things were well managed, all the money accounted for and all the financial records were out in the open for everyone to see?”

On September 14, 2005, Hill asked a Shrine officer for some contact information. Instead of trying to help or answer Hill’s questions, the reply states:

“All questions should be routed to the Executive Vice President, Charlie Cumpstone… As an Imperial Officer, I donate my time to this cause – whether it be for the Hospitals or the Fraternity, but we also operate under a chain of command – that you as a Shriner I’m sure respect as well.

Thanks, Mike Severe, Imperial Officer, Shrine of America”

The past year and a half, Hill has been working with tax consultant and former IRS revenue officer Paul Dolnier, who runs the “Charity Watch” website. Dolnier reports that he met with three high ranking officials from the Pennsylvania Charities Special Investigations unit in Fort Lauderdale for six hours while they were in Florida on other business.

Dolnier and Hill have wondered why some of the returns, specifically for Shrine Temples in the State of Pennsylvania, were not clear if the was money raised for fraternal purposes or for charitable purposes or if the temples were keeping money that should have been sent to the hospitals.

A point of clarification here.

The Shriners Hospitals for Children and Shriners Temples are two different groups that have different tax exempt, non profit classifications.

The temples fall under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Council of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America, which is the temples’ parent 501c10 fraternal group. They are incorporated in Iowa.

The hospitals fall under the jurisdiction of the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which is the hospital’s parent 501c3 non profit charitable group. They are incorporated in Colorado.

Both groups are classified by the IRS as non-profit groups and therefore, must obey the IRS’s disclosure laws.

A board of directors oversees the charitable Shriners Hospitals group and their $9 billion in assets. Four of the Shriners who sit on the hospital’s board currently sit on the Shriners fraternal board.

Each of the hospital’s board of directors has, at one time or another, sat on the Shriners Imperial Divan, the fraternities’ equivalent of the hospital’s board. Additionally, both groups share the Shriners headquarters building in Tampa Florida. This arrangement might draw scrutiny from the IRS and other law enforcement agencies if the “conflict of interest” section of the Sarbanes-Oxley law is applied to non profit groups and strictly enforced.

So, the Shriners Temples are individual fraternal groups that raise money for the Shriners Children’s Hospitals, the charitable group. According to Pennsylvania charity law, 100% of the Shriners Temples net proceeds, after expenses are paid, must go towards the hospitals. Twenty years ago, the Orlando Sentinel ran a series of investigative articles that discovered that the Shriners' circuses had raised over $23 million but only about 2% of the money or $346,251 actually went to the children’s hospitals.

According to some of the Pennsylvania tax returns posted on the Charity Watch site, it appears that the hospitals may not be getting their fair share and some Pennsylvania investigators, auditors and attorneys may be interested. The website reads:

“Attorney General's Office of Charitable Registration for the State of PA is looking at this group as a ‘matter of great interest’ concerning past and current charity fundraising policies and procedures throughout the entire State of PA which includes ALL Shrine Temples and Groups and Clubs located within the State of PA. We discussed in great detail the way the fundraising works, the breakdown percentages and where the money goes after it leads the State of PA”

Hill kept on trying to get answers. He wanted someone to review and respond to the Shriners tax returns posted on the “Charity Watch” website, so he contacted the Shriners managing attorney, Jay Fleisher.

On May 10, 2006, Hill wrote:

“Noble Fleisher,

Please visit and look at the page for Pennsylvania. I would suggest that you make contact with the person that does this page as he had three (3) officials from the State of Pennsylvania Attorney General to visit him in Ft. Lauderdale recently.

Fraternally yours, Vernon Hill”

According to Hill, an email reply from Fleisher stated that he had called Mark Pacella, Chief Deputy Attorney General of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office and that Pacella told him that the Pennsylvania Attorney General was not investigating the Pennsylvania Shriners.

According to Hill, Fleisher wrote to him that a member of the Board of Governors of at least one Shriners Hospital for Children received an e-mail which stated that:

"The State of Pennsylvania Attorney General is looking into 'The Money Trail of The Pennsylvania Shriners' and how the Millions of Dollars raised annually have been used and to see whether or not the Shriners Hospitals have gotten their money...."

“After over three years of asking questions, this was the first reply I’ve received,” Hill said. “Fleisher asked me to provide him with the name, title and telephone number of an official within the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office who could confirm there was an investigation. I initially told Fleisher to go to the website so he could look at the tax returns and read what Paul had written about conferring with the Pennsylvania authorities. A few hours later, I got another email from Fleisher that described how I had written that ‘the Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania is investigating the Pennsylvania Shriners.’ He wrote that I’d not informed him of any official representatives who could back up that statement and that he had, at the same time, been directly advised by a named, high official in the Attorney General’s office that no investigation of Pennsylvania Shriners Temples is being made by the Attorney General.”

“He respectfully requested that I stop alleging any such investigation and that I was supposed to retract my statement to everyone I sent it to,” Hill explained. “I thought that it was most unusual that someone high ranking like Pacella would tell Fleisher that there was no investigation when everyone else is told that they can’t confirm or deny an investigation.”

The standard answer to “Is there an investigation?” is, according to Leslie Amoros of the State of Pennsylvania’s Press Office of Secretary of State, is “We cannot confirm or deny there is an investigation.”

So what did Pacella really tell Fleisher?

According to Barbara Petito, Deputy Press Secretary for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, “Mr. Pacella told Mr. Fleisher that he’d too heard this erroneous information and that Mr. Fleisher was told to call the Department of State to ask them if they were investigating Pennsylvania Shriners.”

“I don’t understand how anyone could get ‘we are not investigating’ from ‘call the department of state and ask them’,” Hill concluded. “Mostly, I just can’t understand why no one will answer my questions or provide me with the financial documentation like they are supposed to. Instead, I get kicked off committees when all I want is to help the poor little kids. I know of hundreds of cases where a Shriner will ask financial questions and either be kicked off committees or be kicked out of the Shriners entirely. I just wonder what they are trying to hide; I wonder why they keep begging for money when their assets are valued over $9 billion dollars.”

(1) One must first be a Master Mason to become a Shriner. For example, all of the board members for both the Shriners hospitals (charity) and Shriners (fraternity) are Masons.

All copies of material reprinted or duplicated from “by Sandy Frost” must include the following credit line:

From Copyright © 2006 by Sandy Frost. Used by permission. For more information, contact

Part 1: Shriners in hot water again?
Part 2: Did Shriners retaliate against whistleblower?
Part 3: Conflicts of interest among the Shriners?

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Invitation to a Modern Masonic lodge meeting

Rose Cross of Gold Lodge No. 1 meets every Sunday night at the Alpharetta Starbucks at Barnes and Noble for socializing and meeting with others interested in Freemasonry. It's a great opportunity to make new friends and learn more about the world's oldest fraternity: Freemasonry.

Everyone arrives around 7:30 PM and stays until whenever.

Alpharetta Barnes & Noble
7660 North Point Parkway
Suite 200
Alpharetta, GA 30022

Map to Starbuck's

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Elitism of the United Grand Lodge of America

The Elitism of the United Grand Lodge of America by Bro. Jeff Peace

I've been reading in the Internet forums about how the United Grand Lodge of America is elitist because it promotes both Masonic and University education. Ironically the same brothers who whine about education as being elitist turn around and bemoan how there isn’t any Masonic education in their lodges. I just had to laugh at such circular reasoning. They want to “restore” the Craft back to the days when men like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin sat in their lodges, and to a time when learned men such as Albert Pike and Albert Mackey wrote volumes of Masonic history and philosophy, but yet they seem oblivious to the fact that all of these men were well educated.

The present Grand Lodges along with the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite have declared war on intellectualism and labeled the educated brethren as “elitists.” Forming “Traditional Observance” lodges is at best a painful process beleaguered with anti-intellectual sentiments from condescending blue collar controlled Grand Lodges. Yet these same “leaders” continue to give orations about the need for “guarding the west gate,” “the need for more young men in Masonry,” and “the importance of Masonic education.” It seems only reasonable to ask a few questions. Who will provide education if no one is educated enough to teach? Will education be relegated to re-reading the old scholarship of Pike and Mackey over and over again? Who will provide new scholarship based on recently discovered materials? Who will read the Latin manuscripts of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries? Why would men like Washington and Franklin join a fraternity of the blind leading the blind? Step back for a moment and think about what you are saying and its implications.

The fear that Freemasonry will become the domain of intellectuals only is unfounded. The fraternity has a long history of intellectuals meeting on the Level with men of varying degrees of education and helping to educate them in areas where they would otherwise have been left entirely in the dark. Freemasonry is about brotherhood and brothers helping brothers. A Freemasonry that fears intellectualism is a Freemasonry that fears one of the many things that led to its past greatness and the many benefits it has bestowed upon humanity.

In grammar and high school didn’t you expect that your teachers were themselves educated enough to teach you? How would anyone become educated if there were not any teachers? If you want to demand more Masonic education then perhaps you should ask: “from where will it come?”

Another point worthy of consideration when you talk about elitism is racism. The two are separated by the thinnest of lines. The United Grand Lodge of America is open to men of all races and creeds. Many state Grand Lodges discriminate based on race while others pretend to be color-blind by recognizing their Prince Hall counterparts while not allowing visitation. Others pat themselves on the back for being recognizing their Prince Hall counterparts and opening their doors to visitation while continuing to recognize other Grand Lodges that openly practice racial segregation. They excuse themselves by saying that they have no control of what another jurisdiction does. This is a lie. When the Grand Lodge of Minnesota recognized the Grand Lodge of France a few years ago they were de-recognized by many state Grand Lodges in order to apply pressure to them to withdraw recognition from the Grand Lodge of France. Don’t buy the baloney that they “have no control of what another jurisdiction does.”

Freemasonry belongs to the Freemasons, not the Grand Lodges. This fraternity can be what you want it to be if you are willing to stand up for your rights as a Mason. If you don’t stand up who will? The United Grand Lodge of America is leading the way to a kinder and more gentle Freemasonry where men from all walks of life can feel comfortable meeting on the Level. We are tearing down the walls of racial inequality and restoring the time honored Masonic principle of religious tolerance. We are doing what everyone else is merely talking about doing because the best way to lead is by example.

— Bro. Jeff Peace

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