Freemasony and Religion (A Legal Perspective)
FREEMASONRY AND RELIGION from a legal perspective
Freemasons’ Hall in London is the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England. It is a magnificent building comprising a Grand Temple, seventeen lodge rooms, a museum, library and offices.
IN 1956, the Grand Lodge sought a reduction in the rates levied by the local authority, Holborn Borough Council, and relied on a statute which afforded relief to any non-profit organization
“whose main objects are concerned with the advancement of religion.”
In deciding whether or not the Grand Lodge came within the statute, the Court examined the Book of Constitutions and the Ancient Charges, of the United Grand Lodge of England, particularly the charge ‘Concerning God and Religion’ wherein it is stated that
‘Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order provided he believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth and practice the sacred duties of morality.’
To the Court this language meant that no Mason need practice any religion, but provided the believe in a Supreme Being and lived a moral life, he may be and remain a Mason.The Court found no evidence that the main object of Masonry is to encourage Masons to go out in the world and by their example lead persons to some religion. Said the Court,
“to advance religion means to promote it, to spread its message even wider among mankind; to take some positive steps to sustain and increase religious belief; and these things are done in a variety of ways which may be comprehensively described as pastoral and missionary.”
There is nothing comparable to that in Masonry. This is not said by way of criticism. For Masonry really does something different. It says to man
“whatever your religion or your mode of worship, believe in a Supreme Creator and lead a good moral life.”
Laudable as this precept is, it does not appear to be the same thing as an advancement of religion.
There is no religious instruction, no program for the persuasion of unbelievers, no religious supervision to see that its members remain active and constant in the various religions they profess, no holding of religious services, no pastoral or missionary work of any kind.
The Court concluded that
“the main object of Freemasonry must be discovered from a consideration of its constitution and its work; and such consideration leads to the view that its main object is clearly not the advancement of religion.”
The Court’s decision, however, does not mean that Freemasonry is not a religious institution. Certainly it is the aim of Freemasonry to advance religion within its membership.
Religion is defined in the Shorter Oxford dictionary in these terms.
(1) Action or conduct indicating a belief in, reverence for, and desire to please, a divine ruling power; the exercise or practice of rights or observances implying this, and
(2) Recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny, and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; the general mental and moral attitude resulting from this belief with reference to its effect upon the individual or the community.
In the sense of these definition, Freemasonry is a religious institution and every Freemason must be a religious man. Albert Mackey makes the point this way.
“I am not disposed to yield, on the subject of the religious character of Masonry, quite so much as has been yielded by more timid brethren. On the contrary I contend, without any sort of hesitation, that Masonry is, in every sense of the word, except one, and that its least philosophical, an eminently religious institution– that it is indebted solely to the religious element which it contains for its origin and for its continued existence, and without this religious element it would scarcely be worthy of cultivation by the wise and good.”
Mackey’s exception is, of course, that Masonry is not a sectarian system of faith and worship. Let there be no mistake. God is at the center of the Masonic system and to Him we must all submit and Him we ought humbly to adore.
United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England V. Holborn Borough Council (1957) All E.R. 281.
Reproduced in MASONIC BULLETIN, B.C.R.;=20 October, 1975.
I have chosen to share this paper with you in that it is the only such record that I have seen whereby Freemasonry (as a fraternity) found its philosophy and very existence being dealt with in a court of Law. I have found the analysis & findings of the Court very interesting.
Have a wonderful Day & God Bless