Masonic Free Press

by Midnight Freemason Emeritus Editor
RWB Robert H. Johnson

Countless times, folks come to me and ask whether or not my podcast, Whence Came You? Or this blog, or The Midnight Freemasons is sanctioned by our Grand Lodge, or whether or not we have permission to run them. I initially scoffed at the idea that somehow I should need some kind of blessing to talk about this thing that I believe belongs to mankind. But in one instance in time, I did, in fact, give the thought a moment of reflection. In a moment, perhaps one of panic, I decided to ask the Grand Master of Illinois at the time. I was a fresh new Master Mason, and I thought, "Maybe I should ask…"

I called the Grand Lodge of Illinois, 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 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 that 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 is that the news you read likely isn't brought to you by the White House unless, you know, you're on X (formally Twitter). 

Why is Freedom of the Press important to journalists? Simply put, it allows them to publish information and, oftentimes, more importantly, opinions and viewpoints relating to issues that might be of a sensitive nature without fear of retribution. Journalists have an exclusive duty to print facts and an allegiance to the citizens; their one duty is to give us the TRUTH. 

What is true? Why is it important? What is true is simply an examination of the facts. Those things that can be said, reported, and written are provable through personal experience and observation. Oftentimes, in today's media, truth is skewed, taken out of context, and rewritten to serve an agenda, be it political or otherwise. This is a major problem today, especially on social media. Countless memes portray images of people, laying on a cherry-picked quote, and are then presented as the "facts." Truth is important because it allows the reader, listener, or observer to utilize that greatest of assets, their own mind, to determine for themselves what speaks to them. 

Today's Masonic institution maintains control over its 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 the 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 that 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 of both sides. 

I could cite numerous instances where grand jurisdictions have laid a heavy hand on anyone leaking 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 the good that comes from the bloggers, YouTubers, and writers who reported the issues have become immeasurable. It all insures accountability. Accountability as it relates to our espoused virtues, notably Justice. The others, Temperance, Fortitude, and Prudence, all play a close second. 

Accountability is one of the most important aspects of 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, it 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. The way I speak about it here in this piece should draw a parallel to the many ideas proposed within our own American Constitution and Bill of Rights. The idea is that the governmental body is beholden and held accountable by the people. The same should apply to Freemasonry, and on the surface, it may appear to be. But dig a little bit into the practices of any grand jurisdiction, and you'll find codes that give ultimate authority to the Grand Master, even the ability to interpret the code in any way he determines. If the sky is blue, and the Grand Master says it's red--it's red--or you're expelled. 

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 and that 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 by the well-known struggles for civil rights and equality. However, we still 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 in practice. Accountability in the political stratosphere is then accomplished by political action, protests, and elections of local and state leaders who are sympathetic to the cause. 

Freemasonry is far removed from this. In an institution that has virtually limitless power as it relates to its 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 were coming with me (they knew from social media that we had hung out and frequently went to the same events and even traveled together). When I asked why, it was explained to me that certain members of the lodge wouldn't sit in the lodge with him because he's black. Recently, two grand jurisdictions came to their annual communications 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 that 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 the action.

Aside from this blog, The Midnight Freemasons, there are a handful of other Masonic blogs out there that receive millions of views, e.g., Freemasonry for Dummies by Chris Hodapp. On his site, Chris talks about all things Masonic in an independent and free way. It's fair to say that the things Chris has decided to cover have definitely deflated some stuffed shirts and ruffled some feathers. Hell, we've done it a time or two right here….and maybe on my own Facebook feed. 

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. 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. 

Today, the shenanigans happening within the AASR NMJ and, separately, the Grand Lodge of Texas are tantamount to insanity. Highly public conversations, which masons deem to be inappropriate for a number of reasons, are viewed by people like myself as completely necessary. I like a whistle-blower, personally. I think I like this stuff because, at one time, I held a very pro-grand lodge stance. I was for a per capita increase. When I joked about our failure to increase it semi-privately within our GL Facebook page, I was told to take it down. Why? "RJ, you have free speech, but not here." Think about that. Essentially, if I didn't do what I was told, I'd get fired. Well, I did delete the post. And in so doing, it garnered even more attention. What was the post? See below. 

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!


RWB, Robert Johnson is an Emeritus managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the WM of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 and Secretary for Waukegan 78. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He is the current V:. Sovereign Grand Inspector for AMD in IL. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, and works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry", “The Master’s Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self – Annotated Edition” and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way. 

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. I agree with the fact that official masonic publications are a proverbial pat yourself on the back. It's great to read of ones achievements, it gives positive light. Your articles on your blog are thought provoking and informative. It's the nitty gritty of freemasonry. They have given ideas to share that benefit us all. I personally think there should be no GL big brother censorship. My god we're FREEmasons!! If we haven't figured out right from wrong yet we're doomed anyway. If anything we want transperency of the GL not the other way around. Freedom of speech and freedom of press should walk hand in hand. Long ago someone in our lodge made the only local newspaper owner mad so nothing is written in the paper for our charitable work. For years there were free swim days for the kids at the local pool all the donors were listed in the paper once, then as the donated days approached they were printed again. Our lodge donated last year we thought we were a shoe in to get our name in the paper (not for recognition but to show we were still active). No dice that year they decided to let the park district put it on their website and not in the paper. They will run ads for pancake breakfast,fish frys and spaghetti dinners for other local lodges just nothing with our lodge. Is it fair? No. DO they have the right to do it? Yes. The press can be your friend or your enemy. Keep up the good work.


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