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Some thoughts on the masonic trial
Presented at the Vancouver Grand Masonic Day, March 2, 2002
by Bro. Mark S. Dwor, District 25 Education Officer
I have been counsel for the accused in more than one masonic trial. My authority to be the counsel is found in Regulation 81, Subsection 2 (b).
I don't like masonic trials, to some extent they represent what might be seen as a "breakdown" in the system--they also represent a mature realization that it is possible to have irreconcilable differences between good people. Some of what I will discuss deals with how the system may be better used to avoid or minimize the last resort of having a masonic trial.
My thoughts here are not directly concerned with any particular trial--rather with some parts of the process leading up to and becoming part of the trial. I do not know if the other speakers will be dealing with similar ruminations--but I, as counsel, have the least defined role. If you look at the Constitutions--Section 90 (a) and (b) sets up the Trial Commission and Section 90 (c) outlines the penalties that can be imposed on the guilty offender. The trial fits in that blank space between Section 90 (b) and Section 90 (c)--in fact the trial itself is barely touched even in the Regulations. Before I leave this issue--I must point out the obvious, Section 91 of the Constitutions, dealing with Appeals, is about the same length and Section 90--dealing with the Trial Commission--but Section 92, dealing with re-instatement is four times as long as either Section 90 or Section 91.
This is an interesting notion--that someone would wish to get back into a lodge after having been removed. For many brethren, lodge membership is a central, almost defining aspect, of their lives. This in some part explains why matters that may appear trivial to some, are so deeply felt by others--not just the nature of the alleged offence, but also the sense of violation and the sense of loss i.e. denied access to masonic intercourse.
The trial itself is supposed to be like any other trial--to first determine facts and then deal with consequences. It’s not often that you get a Perry Mason event--with a new witness exculpating the accused. As you'll see, the fact process has gone through a number of hands by then.
The facts that we have chosen for this trial are based on real incidents as outlined in VW Bro. James Bennie’s paper on Black Sheep Lodges. This way we could avoid any sense that we had based the facts for the mock trial on recent events any of us have dealt with.
What I have been trying to do is get some handle on the meaning of the typical charge "unmasonic conduct." I hasten to add that even though I'll be questioning some obvious definitions--I am convinced that certain acts and activities simply can not be countenanced and if persuasion or education have not been sufficient--I am not at all opposed to any of the sentences outlined in Section 90 (c) - if the acts so justifies.
Three more disconnected issues, before I plunge into my main concern. Firstly, it has been my unpleasant experience to watch brethren either through self-righteous justification or self-indulgent justification say things about and do things to the accused that are completely unacceptable--and which to my mind are unmasonic. I have been tempted, more than once, when counsel for the accused, to agree to the issue of charges against the accused for unmasonic conduct. No matter how angry a Brother is about the facts alleged, or no matter if the accused is found guilty of the offence charge--there is no justification for unmasonic conduct--it can become worse, believe me, if the decision or the penalty is not to the accuser’s liking.
The second issue is one of secrecy, or privacy. I don't really know what the best answer to this is. At the present time, all of the parts of a masonic trial, including participants and outcomes are never made known to the Craft or lodge unless its part of the penalty. I understand why, but silence breeds ignorance and gossip. I once met a Brother who told me in significant and almost totally incorrect detail about a certain matter involving certain brethren. At least he got the name of the lodge right--I, who had been involved in the matter could not set him straight--merely advised him he ought not gossip. The incorrect facts had taken on a life of their own.
The third issue, is by comparison, trite. My lodge does Canadian work and when I quote ritual it will be from the Canadian ritual -- this little paper is not meant to compare the various rituals--so I'm only quoting the one I know the best.
Let us suppose a Brother has said something causing another serious offence. How do we deal with it? Typically, we don't do anything, unless we know about it--but require the matter be resolved as between the brethren involved--frankly that’s also ultimately where the real resolution will have to take place. This process is one of the first things we learn--in part during the apron charge to the entered apprentice:
I must add to the observations of the SW, that you are never to put on that badge should you be about to enter a L. where there is a Bro. with whom you are at variance, or towards whom you entertain feelings of animosity. In such cases it is expected that you will invite him to wthdraw, in order that you may endeavor to settle your differences amicably. Should this be happily effected, you may then clothe yourselves, enter the L. and work together with that love and harmony which should at all times characterize Fms. But if, unfortunately, your differences should be of such a nature as not to be so easily adjusted, one or both of you should retire rather than disturb the harmony of the L. by your presence. (Canadian Working, p. 34)
So the harmony of the lodge is paramount. There’s more to it than that, of course, and my little theory for action may be irrelevant -- but further action is required--otherwise things may get worse. The Master is charged with maintaining the harmony in the lodge--and two brethren who can't sit together will promote disharmony.
My theory goes as follows, and I spell it out, because it’s a bit more pro-active than what we typically see. When a candidate enters for his EA Degree, he is called "Mister" until he gives his solemn oath, then he is addressed as "Brother." From that time forward, the reality of "brotherly love" should become evident to the new Brother--not, I hasten to add, telling him what he has to do--or owe the craft--but rather, showing him by example how Freemasons conduct themselves--we in fact owe at least that amount to him. No individual or officer is charged with the specific job of being a peacekeeper--we all have that function. I know the Chaplain is charged with "promoting tolerance," but he alone can't be delegated to solve these matters--even if you could so expand his responsibilities.
We all must care about two separate issues -- the harmony of the lodge and the dissipation of the antagonism between these brethren.
In my Lodge there is actually a mechanism for this:
Section 32. A Brother violating any of the provisions of these By-Laws, or behaving in such a manner as to disturb the harmony of the lodge, may be admonished by the Worshipful Master, or after due trial, subjected to such punishment as the brethren may have the power to inflict; or his case may be reported to a higher authority.
By-Laws for the Government and Regulation of Centennial-King George Lodge No. 171
I can't imagine ever conducting a trial--but I can see ( and encourage) the Master to get involved--either by himself or with one or two others--and privately. Any resolution may involve a public statement--but then again--it may not.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to resolve this fully and finally as quickly as possible -- these things only get worse with being dragged out. Also, this resolution, if any, will be the best, because it’s closest to brethren and the lodge. Also, it’s also unlikely that a really better resolution--or at least that will truly satisfy the brethren, will come along later. The potential for penalties may be greater--but they may not be imposed.
So, the Master has to look hard to see if he can find an accommodation or resolution. If that fails, it has to go to the District Deputy Grand Master--who must also work hard. Failing that it will find its way to the Grand Secretary--and I know he will work hard on this problem. Failing all that, we have a trial. I can only reiterate, that the best trial is one that can be avoided.
Two things remain to be discussed: a) what is unmasonic conduct and b) what about the penalty. Luckily, the Craft is not run by lawyers -- we would never put up with such an unknowable offence as "unmasonic conduct." Unknowable may be too vague -- but the more accurate description -- we all know what it is but can't completely define it--is no better.
Because each of us has the right to lay a charge, the Grand Master’s special rights to do so may cover more territory--I don't know and I won't ponder it much more. I believe that a breach of any of the injunctions in the three solemn obligations would qualify. That is, if you swore not to do something and then went ahead and did it--that would be unmasonic conduct.
As for breaches of positive requirements--I am not so sure. I don't know how you could enforce living up to the "Ideal Freemason" of the Address to that brethren at the Installation or even the pledges in The Five Points of Fellowship.
We do however have an intellectual framework of using a geometric or mathematic certainty as a gauge for our actions--I am putting forward the FC Degree working tools as the best criteria, for a few reasons. Firstly, the FC Degree has the perfect ashlar--the sign of our work in progress in making ourselves better craftsmen. Secondly, the tools themselves are those used by the officers of the lodge, and the messages they stand for inform the maintenance of the lodge and the Craft. Thirdly, if you can put aside all the references to an eternal judgement (we can only judge in temporal fashion) this working tool lecture outlines and calibrates the Craft’s expectations for our conduct.
I now present to you the W.T. of a F.C. They are the Square, the Level, and the Plumb-rule.
The Square is to try and to adjust rectangular corners of buildings and to assist in bringing rude matter into due form. The Level is to try and to prove horizontals; and the Plumb-rule is to try and to adjust uprights, when fixing them in place.
However, we are not operative Masons, but rather free and accepted or speculative Masons; we therefore apply these tools figuratively to our morals. In this sense, the Square teaches us to regulate our lives and actions by the Masonic rule and line, and so to correct and harmonize our conduct as to render us acceptable to the Divine Being, from Whom all goodness emanates, and to Whom we must give an undisguised account of our lives and actions.
The Level demonstrates that we all spring from the same stock, partake of the same nature, and share in the same hope; and although distinctions among men are necessary to preserve subordination and to reward merit and ability, yet no eminence of station in life should make us forget that we are brothers, and that he who is placed on the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel is as much entitled to our regard as he who has attained the highest; because the time will come, and the best and wisest know not how soon, when all distinctions save those of goodness and virtue shall cease, and death, the grand leveller of human greatness, shall reduce us all to the same level.
The infallible Plumb-rule, which, like Jacob’s ladder, connects Heaven and Earth, and is the criterion of rectitude and truth, teaches us that to walk uprightly and with humility before God, turning neither to the right nor left from the path of virtue, is a duty incumbent upon every Freemason. It also teaches each one of us not to be a persecutor, a slanderer, or a reviler of religion; not to bend towards avarice, injustice, malice, revenge, or the envy and contempt of our fellow-creatures; but to give up every selfish propensity which might injure others. To steer the bark of this life over the seas of passion without quitting the course of rectitude is the highest perfection to which human nature can attain.
As the builder raises his column by the Level and the Plumb-rule, so ought every Freemason to carry himself uprightly in this life, to observe a due medium between avarice and profusion, to hold the scales of justice with equal poise, and to make his passions and prejudices, coincide with the exact lines of his duty. In all his pursuits a Freemason should have eternity in view.
So the Square teaches us morality, the Level equality, and the Plumb-rule justness and uprightness of life and action. Thus, by square conduct, level steps, and upright actions, we hope to ascend to those ethereal mansions where the Just will assuredly receive their reward.
The Canadian Working of British Columbia.
Finally, it’s appropriate to come to the penalty, after an acknowledgement that while we strive for perfection, we will remain imperfect, a penalty may have to be assessed. At a minimum--a sincere apology, read out in open lodge and also made to the parties wronged is going to be required. This may seem trivial to some--and in some instances it will not be sufficient--but it’s the starting point and one that our Grand Lodge has determined from the outset as being a building block of masonic conduct. I refer to The History of The Grand Lodge of British Columbia 1871-1971, and the case of Henry Holbrook. This comes from Chapter 8, specifically the decision of Union Lodge to join our Grand Lodge, which was already in existence. Holbrook was opposed to this and stormed out of the Lodge without permission of the Master or with proper deference and almost certainly with unmasonic language. John Marshall, the Grand Historian, reviews the story as follows on page 144:
The consequences of the action of Union Lodge in joining the Grand Lodge of British Columbia did not end there so far as RW Brother Henry Holbrook was concerned. At a meeting of Union Lodge held prior to the abandonment of the English charter (it is now impossible to ascertain whether it was the one at which it refused to recognize his jurisdiction and the Lodge’s appeal to MW Brother Powell to lay the Foundation of the Mortuary Chapel, or whether it was the one at which it resolved to abandon the English warrant and come under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia), RW Brother Holbrook was present and, after a heated argument during which all the other members opposed him, he refused to obey the commands of the WM and left the Lodge without his permission and without the customary salutation of respect to his position. In October, 1872, the Lodge wrote the GrS for instructions as to what course should be pursued, and he advised that RW Brother Holbrook should again be asked to apologize. If he still refused to do so, the Lodge should exclude him from membership, but the GM would be glad if he could be prevailed upon to retain his membership in the Craft in the province.
It was evident that Brother Holbrook would not apologize, and again the Lodge sought advice as to what could be done. The GM approved the action of the Lodge in calling any brother to account for non-obedience to the WM in Lodge assembled, and asserted that no brother, however high in possession, could be justified in leaving that Lodge without his permission and on salutation. It appears that Brother Holbrook had been suspended pending action by the United Grand Lodge of England, but it no longer had any authority in British Columbia, and the GM suggested that the Lodge, in default of an apology, should dispose of the matter by ordinary form of trial, and on conviction impose a penalty of suspension, admonition, or exclusion, as the Constitution directed. The GM, however, counseled reciprocal moderation on the part of RW Brother Holbrook and the Lodge, and trusted that the lapse of time might have softened the ill feelings of the past, and that RW Brother Holbrook might be willing to submit to the wishes of the British Columbia brethren and pay due respect to the ancient charges "which so often have had his solemn assent" No doubt that the Lodge acted on the advice of the GM; that no apology was made; and that the usual proceedings, in such cases were taken, charges laid, summons served, and hearing ordered; and on that hearing, which Holbrook probably did not attend, he was suspended for un-Masonic Conduct. In the Proceedings of Grand Lodge of 1873, there appears the name "Henry Holbrook" under the heading "Suspended for un-Masonic Conduct."
In view of the contribution Henry Holbrook has made to Freemasonry, it would seem to be unfortunate and unfair to him that such an entry should be made in the published records of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia without some explanation. "Un-Masonic Conduct" might include any form of criminality and Henry Holbrook was no criminal. In a fit of passion, he may have transgressed some of the Rules of the Craft, and no doubt he did, but his contribution to the Craft was really tremendous as we shall endeavour to portray in the next few paragraphs.
You will notice in the first two paragraphs the absolute importance placed on the act of apology by our Grand Lodge and in the third paragraph when the Grand Historian doesn't let this incident detract from the accomplishments of Holbrook. To do so, would have been unmasonic—not an offence—just bad form.


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