[Square & Compasses]

Letter of the month: March 2004

[Web-master's note: Here is a letter clarifying the subject of Masonic social clubs, like the Fellow Craft Club in Patchogue, New York, scene of a recent tragic shooting.]

Date: Thu, 11 Mar 2004 08:37:21 -0500
From: Scott Gaertner <scott@anchorastoria.org>
Subject: Re: Man shot dead at Long Island Masonic Temple

My Brothers,

I am writing this to the large number of Brethren who are from outside the United States, to offer a little perspective of how we do things here. Hopefully, this will clear up some misconceptions.

While I am not speaking as an official representative, I am a member of the Grand Lodge of New York and I live fairly close to the Lodge in question.

Many Lodges here have social clubs that are comprised of a subset of Lodge members. They are often called "Fellowship Clubs" or "Square Clubs". While these are condoned by many Lodges, they are separate entities.

Activities are purely for entertainment and social purposes -- fishing trips and barbeques come to mind. Charity functions are also not uncommon.

Sometimes, Square Clubs are not a direct subset of a Lodge, but instead a group of Masons from a profession, such as the New York Police Department Square Club, of which only officers are members.

I have only recently heard of the sophomoric hazing that occurs as initiation into some of these clubs. In my Square Club, I just had to hand over $10 for the years dues. In others, however, more elaborate (and stupid) stunts are pulled to scare/impress the newcomer.

These, however, are rare (as far as I know). I have only heard of a couple of modern Fellowcraft Clubs having such initiations, which were more common in the 1940s and 1950s, but almost nonexistant today.

At my Lodge meeting Tuesday night, every single Mason there was absolutely devistated by the news. There was also utter disbelief that a firearm would ever be brought to a Lodge and used in such a careless way.

The only people I have ever seen carry a gun inside a Lodge are off-duty police officers, who are required to carry them. Those of us who were brought up around guns were taught to never aim them towards another human being, unless it is to kill them. The kind of behavior exhibited at that Fellowcraft Club runs contrary to every safety lesson taught about firearms, as it is well known that even a blank charge can kill.

I know that some of you are probably wondering what will happen to the people involved. All I can say for sure is that the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of New York mandate immediate suspension of the 76 year old brother, as he has been indicted for 2nd degree manslaughter, which is a felony. If he is convicted, he will be permanently expelled (in addition to any jail time he receives by the courts). No felon can be a Mason in New York.

I'm sure some of you are also confused by the terminology of U.S. courts. Just to keep things clear, murder must be premeditated and intentional. Manslaughter is for accidental or neglegant deaths. It is the decision of the District Attorney as to which charge he will file, and is usually determined upon the strength of the evidence.

As to what will happen to the Lodge under which the Fellowship Club was operating, only the Grand Master knows for sure. I would not, however, be surprised if their Charter was revoked, and many members expelled.

I personally think this should be done -- even though the group was acting outside of the Lodge, they were Masons who should have known better.

What I do know for sure is that not only was an innocent life lost and a family left shattered, but a great deal of damage was also done to the institution of Freemasonry.

For those not familiar with the subject, Masonry in New York was once the focus of prolonged attacks after the death of a supposed member named William Morgan. "The Morgan Affair" as it is called was the inspiration for the formation of the Anti-Mason political party, and almost destroyed Masonry in the United States.

Make no mistake, my Brothers, we are now in the midst of our very own Morgan Affair. The damage to our reputation could very well destroy the future of Freemasonry in the U.S., maybe not by a political witch hunt, but for the perception that this has created in the minds of many outsiders.

Who would want to join a fraternity that shoots its members? Unfortunately, that is the message given by the press. Remember, to an outsider, the term "Fellowcraft Club" is easily confused with the name of the 2nd degree of Masonry. ABC News, a very well respected news outfit, reported that the death occurred during the 2nd degree of the Lodge. While this is not correct, the public is going to believe it.

When trying to explain this horrible event to non-Masons, please keep this in mind, and please try to correct their facts. The truth can help us in this matter. Deception, most surely, will not.

Finally, please keep the James family in your hearts and prayers.

Scott Gaertner
Anchor-Astoria Lodge No. 729
Grand Lodge of New York

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