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Our e-mail more and more frequently includes inquiries about whether Freemasonry will accept someone with a criminal past.
The stories recounted are, in many cases, wrenching: bad choices made when young and immature; a foolish and intemperate act in the heat of the moment; being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some questions arrive about felony convictions with no prison sentence while others speak of time served and a new life begun. Each question is unique but, ultimately, the answer winds up being the same.
Freemasonry is NOT an organization designed to give men a 'hand up'. It is not a rehabilitation group in any way. We speak sometimes using the clichéd phrase that "We make good men better."
It's so very difficult to not have a tremendous amount of empathy for someone who has made a mistake and then goes forth to turn their life around and to make others know that they are, indeed, worthy members of society. It's also understandable that someone who has worked SO very hard to get back to a normal life would be both angry and dejected when they are told they will not be accepted into a group which nearly everyone sees as being morally upright and which could certainly help them stay on the straight path.
However, the facts are these: nearly every Grand Lodge has a specific prohibition against accepting those convicted of a felony. Some Grand Lodges have even more strict requirements for membership which preclude ANY type of criminal conviction (except minor traffic offenses).
Beyond that, after the statutory requirements of Grand Lodge are met, the individual lodge then makes a judgment on the petitioner's 'moral fitness'. This is done by secret ballot where a single member has the ability to squelch the application. Sound harsh? It is - but this is one of the reasons we can all look to our Brother Masons in time of need or adversity.
The Investigation Committee is designed to find out if the petitioner has any 'skeletons in the closet'. While it is a Masonic offense to tell anyone how you would vote, there are many Masons who would readily refuse admission to someone who had been guilty of driving while intoxicated even though that offense might not be specified by their Grand Lodge. (It could have been their family killed by that stupid act....)
We applaud those who want to better their lives but for those who don't meet the requirements of Freemasonry, there are many other wonderful organizations where they can assist society and do good.
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