"In this connection permit me to say that Masonry is no hiding place for criminals or shelter for crime. If a Mason should be a good man and true, and should strictly obey the moral law, then we have no room in our Lodges for criminals and deliberate violators of the laws of the land, nor have we any use for Lodges which harbor offenders against the peace and security of society. The idea that a Mason is to shield a brother guilty of crime, or screen him from just punishment, is a portion of the anti-Masonic code, and is in no sense justified by any Masonic teachings or practice." - Grand Master - Harmon G. Reynolds, 1870
Yes, we sometimes make a mistake and let someone in who is not the caliber of man we were told or lead to believe they were. Other times though, a man commits a crime after becoming a Freemason. Our fraternity deals with these instances, likely more times than we'd like to admit. But what can we expect? Mistakes happen.
From jurisdiction to jurisdiction the rules vary. A felony conviction in some jurisdiction bars a man from entering ever, while in others like Illinois, it's the discretion of the lodge whether to accept a man who has a felony or not. In many jurisdictions, there are mandatory background checks, and where it is not mandatory, some lodges take that into their own hands and run these checks as a part of their universal process. The investigating committee is paramount, whether the background checks are done or not.
The Past Grand Master of Illinois, Greg Clark (Illinois) recently addressed this, albeit briefly in his outgoing address in October of 2019. Paraphrasing, he urged lodges to think about background checks and to use them in the petitioning process. Some of you reading this might be thinking that's too far, while your brothers in other jurisdictions know this to be standard practice, e.g. Pennsylvania, where the Grand Lodge runs the background check, and ANY felony at all, bars that man for life at the Grand Lodge level. No lodge can overturn it. And lets remember, Pennsylvania has the highest number of Masons in any state (97,822 in 2017 - MSA North America Membership Statistics).
Our Past Grand Master, in his 1870 address was no doubt dealing with many of the same things we deal with today in the craft, world-wide. His remarks are timeless and yet one can barely believe that he had to address this concept at all, given who we are and what we stand for. The full text of his address can be found in the Grand Lodge Proceedings, 1870. For our Illinois Brothers with access to MORI, you can find this document there, and for those who have access to the Members Section of the ILoR Website, you cans search them there as well.
May we ever be just and upright Masons -