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Address to the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge

Brethren, it is very good to see so many of you here today, notwithstanding the other attractions available on a very fine summer’s day!


I always think of this Quarterly Communication as something of a transitional moment in the rhythm of the Masonic year. This is the first Communication after the Annual Investiture and therefore the first occasion when the new Grand Officers of the Year, under the careful tutelage and watchful eye of the Grand Director of Ceremonies and his team of Deputies, discharge their duties in Grand Lodge. I think we can all agree Brethren, it has been a very encouraging start and bodes well for the rest of their term of duty. 


It is also our last Communication before the summer and a time for reflection on recent developments and how we, as a Grand Lodge, might respond. In particular, I am referring to a small number of critical articles in the press recently which are both ill-informed and, in some cases, deliberately and wilfully prejudiced. You are all familiar with the usual myths, misconceptions, and innuendos which are trotted out and it is a matter of profound regret that they continue to be used so readily by a few journalists.


More recently there have been two recurring themes from different journalists. The first is the claim that Freemasonry in this country is a male only activity and therefore inherently wrong, non-inclusive and misogynistic. The second is, once again, a focus on the alleged lack of transparency relating to Freemasonry and yet another push to require full declaration of our membership almost in all circumstances. 


Brethren, we have all had enough of this fake narrative and we should state clearly and unambiguously what Freemasonry is. We have a proud tradition as a secular, non-religious, non-political, lawful, and law-abiding activity in the United Kingdom, as it is elsewhere in the world. Freemasonry is proud of its history of inclusivity and for the last three centuries, we have welcomed members from all walks of life, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sexuality or socio-economic background. Across the world, most nights, in Freemasons’ Lodges, these groups of people come together to enjoy their Freemasonry, united in their commitment to our core values, which this Grand Lodge articulates as Integrity, Friendship, Respect and Service. 


These values are based on long-established Enlightenment values  and Freemasonry has fundamental ideals including liberty, tolerance, constitutional government, and a meritocratic society. Our members are strongly encouraged to play an active and positive role in the communities where we live, through service by giving our time, skills, and expertise to local organisations, as well as supporting financially local charities.

You are all aware, Brethren, that in this country there have been for more than a century two Grand Lodges where membership is exclusively for women. These Grand Lodges adhere to the same principles and values I have already mentioned. We are fortunate that we enjoy a positive and constructive relationship with both the Women’s Grand Lodges, as do they with us, and we co-operate, and indeed co-ordinate, on those matters which are of common interest to us all for the good of Freemasonry. 


We are also all firmly agreed that none of us wishes to extend that co-operation to the work done within our Lodges. We all wish, as do our members, for our Lodges to remain exclusively male or female. This is no different to almost every major sport in this country. It is also consistent with one of the fundamental rights previous generations fought to maintain for us all, that of Freedom of Association. 


In order to establish this beyond any reasonable doubt, I am delighted to tell you that a joint statement of the three Grand Lodges will be issued this afternoon confirming this position. This is a first for both the Women’s Grand Lodges and the United Grand Lodge of England and I am sure we will continue to build on this approach as we stand up to the misrepresentation and prejudice from which Freemasonry so often suffers.

I now wish to address the perennial issue of the demand for a declaration of Masonic membership. Freemasonry is, of course, usually the only organisation selected for such demands, all naturally, in the name of transparency. 


As many of you will know, in 1799 the Government of William Pitt the Younger, in the face of the turmoil arising from the wars with Revolutionary France, passed The Unlawful Societies Act. This Act banned a number of radical, even subversive, societies but Freemasonry was not banned. Instead, an obligation was placed on every Lodge to provide a list of its members to the Clerk to the Local Magistrates each year. This requirement remained in force for almost 170 years until it was abolished, as being unnecessary and authoritarian, in 1967 as part of the Criminal Justice Act introduced by the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. 


I think it appropriate we should all remember this part of our history when faced by demands for a blanket declaration of membership, which should be seen as both unnecessary and oppressive. Especially as, nowadays, it is often only Freemasonry where this is deemed to be necessary, whereas in the more immediately perilous circumstances of 1799 it was decided by Parliament to be unnecessary. 


We should all remember that such demands would breach existing, long-established legislation in the United Kingdom and, indeed, elsewhere. Freedom of Association and a right to a private life is protected for Freemasons just as it is for individuals who are members of trade unions, political parties, religious organisations, the Round Table, football, rugby or even golf clubs. I can assure you, Brethren, we will be robust in tackling all such attempts to discriminate against Freemasons.


Brethren, you may have noticed that I am concerned, not to say angered, at yet another wave of ill-informed articles, pushing well-worn and plain wrong myths, prejudices, and often malicious innuendos. My fellow Rulers and I are determined we will be firm in dealing with them. We all will support strongly the Grand Secretary and the Communications teams as they respond to any more ill-informed or prejudiced articles. Enough is definitely enough!


Brethren, notwithstanding all of this, I think we are in very good heart with a real enthusiasm around the organisation. I wish you all a very pleasant summer.


Thank you, Brethren.


MW Bro Jonathan Spence, DL

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