I called the Grand Lodge of Illinois, I left a message, wrote emails and waited. At that time, our Grand Master was MWB:. Terry L Seward. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I listened to the show, I find it to be very fine. While I cannot give you a blanket approval (because you may change the show in the future), I can say what you’ve done is acceptable and we have no issue with it. Carry on.”
After that, I never looked back. But it begs the question, “Why do guys ask this question?”
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is believed by most to be of the utmost importance, protecting citizens from the government controlling the flow of information or news. When we started way back in the colonial days, inklings of the American experiment tickled the brains of those reading and bent the ear of those gossiping in pubs and street corners, eyes reeling for British officers. The British actually tried to prevent and prohibit the flow of information which was unapproved. We all know what "approved" information consists of...
Adopted on December 15th, 1791, the amendment prevents the interference, constraints, and prosecution from the government when information doesn’t fit an approved agenda. In 1931 this was reinforced in Near V. Minnesota.
A second important issue here is not just the freedom of the press, but also the independence thereof. Regardless of where you get your news, it’s likely a product of the Associated Press, which is largely an independent news source. It is true that there can be bias, liberal, conservative or otherwise. The point being, the news you read likely isn’t brought to you by the White House, unless, you know, you're on Twitter.
Why is Freedom of Press important to journalists? Simply put, it allows them to publish information and often times more importantly, opinions and viewpoints relating to issues which might be of a sensitive nature, without fear of retribution. Journalists have an exclusive duty to print facts, an allegiance to the citizens, their one duty is to give us the TRUTH.
Today’s Masonic institution maintains control over it’s press, both in freedom and in independence. I’ve read countless Grand Lodge magazines and none of them report anything but their great successes. Everything has to go through a committee, everything must be approved. This is important on one hand, due to image maintenance but on the other hand, it’s hypocritical.
Why is all this important to Freemasonry? As stated above, “Official Masonic” publications aren’t going to be unskewed. They will be truthful in the telling of stories or anecdotes which portray the great things we do and report benign happenings. As an organization as large as ours, it’s important to have independence in reporting on the inner workings of the craft. Only now, in the last few years has the organization had any kind of “free press”. In the past, issues were only talked about at the annual communications of grand jurisdictions, leaving men to decide on the spot, the resolutions to issues whilst not hearing the full story or both sides.
I could cite numerous instances where grand jurisdictions have laid a heavy hand on anyone leaking out information to the public, especially when it involves issues of civil rights, racism and ethical and moral standards. However the good that came from these “leaks” and good that comes from the bloggers, YouTubers and writers who reported the issues has become immeasurable. It all insures accountability. Accountability as it relates to our espoused virtues, notably, Justice. The others; Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence, all playing a close second.
Accountability is one of the most important aspects within any institution. In Freemasonry, the belief in a “Supreme Being” is a method of accountability. As we say, “…It was necessary for you to profess a belief in a higher power, otherwise no oath would have been considered binding upon you.” Of course this is paraphrased, and your jurisdiction may vary slightly. The idea here is that based on the idea that paradise or an afterlife will be withheld as punishment for breaking your oaths holds enough weight with the brethren to allow you to be trusted. In our ancient fraternity, a man’s word is not enough, something has to hold you accountable.
Accountability in a modern and everyday sense is observable every time you clock in at work, every time you send an email with a read receipt, log a task etc. In the way I speak about it here in this piece, it should draw a parallel to the many ideas proposed within our own American Constitution and Bill of Rights. The idea that the governmental body is beholden and held accountable by the people. The same should apply to Freemasonry.
Without this accountability which is only now beginning to develop in our fraternity, you get what we have had since the beginning and that which has in recent years shocked brothers and the public across the world, when by chance, stories that escape the confines of Grand Sessions make it onto popular news sites like NPR.
I believe it’s important to ask here and now, what do we hold our grand jurisdictions accountable for? Answering this question requires us to look at what is acceptable within our current society. To look at the normalities of the present age. Where once our fraternity excelled in this, it has now been shown that society has largely passed us by, utilizing the Masonic tenets to continually progress the world, and again, where are we? We usually ascribe this lack of progress to "tradition".
The ideas promulgated by our institution which were once revolutionary, which the rest of the world saw and readily adopted have improved the world over. We held an influence. When the social structure of the day was ready and when the people held their local, state and federal governments accountable, the right things were done. Freemasonry influenced that behavior and practice. Now, the profane world has lapped us. They had the struggle, they worked through it by using the free press which forced accountability. This is evidenced through the well known struggles of civil rights and equality. We still however have a long way to go. For even though we glorify a document in which it states, “…all men are created equal.”,we have continued to fail at in practice. Accountability in the political stratosphere is then accomplished by political action, protests and elections of local and state leadership who were and are sympathetic to the cause.
Freemasonry is far removed from this. In an institution which has virtually limitless power as it relates to it’s membership, laws, rules, regulations and practices. Accountability is all but present in the areas men should be well concerned with. When visiting Tennessee, I was asked if a certain friend and Brother Charles Harper, was coming with me (they knew from social media that we had hung out and frequently went to the same things and even had travelled together.). When I asked why, it was explained to me that certain members of the lodge wouldn’t sit in lodge with him because he’s black. Recently two grand jurisdictions came with edicts against the membership relating to their sexuality, and I ask you within these two examples, where is the accountability? These are striking examples, no doubt. But make no mistake they are the product of an institution relegated to the back room where no one cares to look, but maybe, they should.
How do we hold our organization to the standards it claims to uphold? Enter the Masonic blogosphere. Shortly after the two jurisdictions came out with these rulings against men who hold a different sexuality, reports were far and wide across the United States and the world, describing the actions taken. Even NPR had a piece on it. While we as Masons understand that this issue affected only two jurisdictions, the NPR article, which countless people read assuredly ascribed these views to the craft at large. In this, the accountability came in the form of members breaking the code of silence. Within two weeks, no less than five grand jurisdictions in the U.S. and one from Europe either pulled recognition or issued a statement of condemnation against any grand jurisdiction which would bar membership to men based on anything but their good works and character. To hold accountability is to hold the feet to the fire no matter who it is or how much we trust them. In our fraternity there is absolute power. As we’ve all heard, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Free press is necessary for accountability to exist. Free Press caused action.
You won't find Grand Lodges endorsing blogs or podcasts anytime soon, and whilst we might secretly want their blessing, let’s be honest. We shouldn’t ever have it. By having it, we all but agree to be beholden to the jurisdiction granting our existence, causing a massive conflict of interest and in my own state of Illinois, my Grand Lodge has no desire to stifle Masonic content as long as we converse on the level, maintain professionalism and civility. I guess we’re pretty understanding here.
Unfortunately one Grand jurisdiction with a positive attitude doesn’t rub off on the others. And because of this, it’s important to understand the independence of Masonic thinkers, reporters, bloggers and other personalities. It guarantees that the stories that should get out, do get out. Whilst harmony is key in our fraternity, a bigger key is TRUTH.
So in closing out this post I propose a toast to all the Masonic web writers, bloggers, YouTubers et al out there who write, report and spread Masonic knowledge and TRUTH. Cheers my brothers! And cheers to the patrons as well!