Welsh Assembly backs down
After four years of often angry deliberation, the Welsh Assembly has finally decided
to drop its Standing Order to single out Freemasons, who are elected members,
as having to declare membership, with criminal sanctions if they failed to do so.
The Assembly Members (AMs) only
did so, however, after warnings that failure to change the Standing Order could result
in being prosecuted in court under human rights legislation.
Cardiff’s Western Mail described the events on the day of the vote as “especially bizarre”. The newspaper added: “Over the past three years, however, this stipulation [singling out Freemasons] has been increasingly regarded
as arbitrary, unenforceable, and rather odd.”
However, the final outcome was unsatisfactory as the AMs decided to change the Standing Order to insist on declaration of membership of any organisation which had a “closed membership”.
From the start, the official position of Grand Lodge has been that there is no problem in Freemasons declaring their membership of
the Craft, provided Freemasonry is not the
sole organisation which has to make such
a declaration. So, four years ago, the whole matter could have been amicably resolved.
Kirsty Williams, a Liberal Democrat AM, and chairman of the standards committee, referring to possible court action, told
the Assembly: “It would do little for the Assembly’s reputation either as a legislative body or one that prides itself as upholding human rights legislation.”
There had been an earlier move – in 2002 – to change the rules, but this had failed to produce the necessary two-thirds majority.
The Province of South Wales, Eastern Division, has been in the thick of the battle since the beginning. On its website, the province commented: “Some [Assembly] members displayed what can only be described as breathtaking ignorance of,
and antipathy towards, Freemasonry.
“Such ignorance really cannot be
excused because for over four years we
have repeatedly offered each AM the
facility of having their questions answered – and/or to visit a Masonic premises. The antipathy could therefore be said to be fuelled by wilful ignorance.”
In addition, John Hamill, director of communications at Grand Lodge, appeared before the standards committee to put the case against the Standing Order.
At least there has been a solution of sorts, but it has been achieved only by the threat
of court action, and has been a disappointing episode which has done little for the reputation of the Welsh Assembly.
As we show on page 54, a Grand Charity team has visited the stricken tsunami disaster area following the massive support given by the Craft to help rebuild the lives and hopes of the people in the area.
The Grand Charity has led the way in providing the support on behalf of the Craft, and the task faced by all charities working
in the area is formidable, to say the least.
But it has shown the Craft at its very
best, and has again underlined the immense amount of community work in which the main Masonic charities are involved. The work of the Grand Charity and individual Masons, Lodges and Provinces over the tsunami is something of which every member of the Craft can be proud.
Helping new Masons
The Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Kent, made clear (see page 13) the role he sees for Grand Officers in their Lodges. They must, in particular, be mentors to new Masons, setting an example by encouraging those who have just come in to the Craft.
Apart from this mentoring, the Grand Master also wants to see more Masons taking part in the rituals – not leaving it to the same old reliable faces. To keep the interest of all members, it is essential that more brethren play a more active role in the ceremonies.
The Grand Master also had other advice for Lodges – the principal officers should, ideally, stay in office no longer than between five and eight years. Again, by moving on they open up the Lodge to the keen Masons who might otherwise he held back.
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