Is speech free in Texas freemasonry? The simple answer is “no.” The longer answer is much more complicated. Why is it complicated? Because the idea of free speech has always been complicated and fraught with exceptions. There are many aspects to this question, but let us break them down and take this question into pieces.
Free speech in civil society is protection from repercussions from our government. There are no protections from repercussions from private citizens or organizations. This means if you say, for instance, “George is quick to anger and untrustworthy,” the government cannot seek to prevent you from continuing to say this. George may be upset, but he cannot seek recourse through the legal system. George can, however, tell all his friends that you are untrustworthy.
Freemasonry, many academics agree, was founded to promote free speech in a time when speaking against the king was a death sentence. Freemasonry provided safe spaces for free expression and discussion of free ideas. We ask again, “Is speech free in Texas freemasonry?”
Our Grand Lodge is chartered as a Texas Corporation, whose corporate charter is dependant on upholding the laws of the state where enumerated, and the laws of the United States, where silent. We have thoroughly reviewed our Grand Lodge’s law book and we must say we are stunned. There are no protections for free speech in our law, and this is in total contradiction to the First Amendment, but more importantly, the ideals freemasonry was founded upon.
Current case law has set a precedent for and upholds the suppression of free speech by corporations, over their employees. Private organizations, including individuals, businesses, clubs, and nonprofit organizations are not bound by first amendment constraints as regards to an organization’s ability to restrain the speech of their members.
The First Amendment prohibits governmental infringement on the right of free speech. Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 837, 102 S. Ct. 2764, 73 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1982); see also Anderson v. Pasadena Indep. Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 439, 444 (5th Cir. 1999) (“It is well established that a state may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise retaliate against a public employee for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech”).
Similarly, the Fifth Amendment only applies to governmental actors. See S.F. Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S. Olympic Comm., 483 U.S. 522, 543, 107 S. Ct. 2971, 97 L. Ed. 2d 427 (1987) (“The fundamental inquiry is whether the [defendant] is a governmental actor to whom the prohibitions of the Constitution apply.”); see also Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156, 98 S. Ct. 1729, 56 L. Ed. 2d 185 (1978) (“[M]ost rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement [**32] by governments.”).
The protections of the First and Fifth Amendments do not extend to private conduct, only to government action. See Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179, 191, [*575] 109 S. Ct. 454, 102 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1988).
Our concern is that on paper we are governed as an effective tyranny and that our current form of governance does not square with the same forms of our civil governing structures. We can resolve this issue through our current laws, but the door appears to be welded shut as it is considered a Masonic offense …
TITLE V – CHAPTER 2, Art. 508(28)
28. To circularize by letter or other form of publication other Lodges in this Grand Jurisdiction proposing or advocating any amendments, repeal or enactments of laws in or by this Grand Lodge, without first securing a dispensation for such purpose from the Grand Master.
If we have any hope of fixing our Grand Lodge, we must first repeal this supposed enumerated violation. Once it is gone, the Grand West can openly assemble and reform the Constitution according to our wishes, perhaps put the “Free” back into Freemasonry, and remove absolute executive power. There are no checks and balances at present and chief among these is freedom of speech to openly question the actions of a Grand Master.
We believe that our codification of the absolute power of our chief executive on this and many other points, and more importantly the suppression of the free speech of our members, puts the membership status of anyone who speaks out about our Grand Master at grave risk.
The absence of codified free speech provisions in our laws does not serve the best interest of anyone, regardless of their allegiances.
Further Background Information on Art. 508(28)
Art. 508(28) was first proposed by the Committee on Masonic Jurisprudence, a report given by RW Jewell Lightfoot, and signed by Judge Fly (chairman) in 1933. It was adopted on Dec. 6, 1933.
It is unknown what incident led up to the report, but the recommendation of the Committee stated
“It shall be a Masonic offense for any subordinate lodge or any committee, officer or member thereof to circularize by letter or other form of publication other lodges in the is Grand Jurisdiction proposing or advocating any amendments, repeal, or enactment of laws in or by this Grand Lodge without first securing a dispensation for such purpose from the Grand Master.
No such dispensation shall be granted by the Grand Master except in cases of extreme emergency which cannot be reasonably postponed until the next communication of this Grand Lodge.
This Grand Lodge shall, alone, exercise the right and powers to take a referendum of subordinate Lodges on questions of amendments, repeals, or enactments of legislation governing this Grand Lodge or Lodges under its jurisdiction, except in cases of extreme emergency, wherein a special dispensation is granted as herein provided.
Any Lodge violating this article shall be promptly suspended until the succeeding communication of this Grand Lodge and unless restored by this Grand Lodge its charter shall be forfeited.
Any officer of a subordinate Lodge violating any of the provisions of this article shall be promptly suspended from office by the Grand Master, and charges shall be filed in the form and manner provided by Masonic Law. Any member of any subordinate Lodge violating the provisions of this article, charges of unMasonic conduct shall be promptly filed against him and a trial had thereon as provided in other cases of Masonic offenses.”
In 1936, Shelby Lodge No. 732 requested dispensation to circularize to Lodges a recommendation of a resolution requesting a name change to Sam Houston Lodge No. 32. Dispensation was denied.
No other requests are known.
In 1962, it changed into the form we have now. It remained the same after the rewrite of Title V in 2004 and 2014-2015.