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-by- Marvin E. Fowler, PGM, DC
Grand Master, Grand Encampment, Knights Templar
I want to talk briefly on the subject of discrimination.
I live in Virginia, and I suspect if you would ask the first
1,000 Virginians you should meet to tell you something
about discrimination, some 990 would confine their replies
to the racial struggle now prevalent in so many parts of our
nation. They would discuss the question of equal
employment rights, integration of schools and perhaps of
churches and the public accommodation portion of civil
rights legislation. They would possibly discuss race riots,
mass demonstrations, sit-downs, lie-downs, and stall-ins.
Depending on their individual points of view, they would tell
you what portions of the civil rights legislation and struggle
they condone and what parts they vigorously oppose.
I strongly suspect that more than 90 percent of the
Virginians you meet in this day and time would not even
consider any alternate definition of the term
"Discrimination" - nor would they discuss the term in any
relation other than as a racial problem.
We have heard so much about discrimination among
races that we are prone to limit our definition of the word
to its relation to this familiar subject.
The term "Discrimination" has become somewhat
corrupted by modern usage. One of its definitions is: "A
difference in treatment or favor, especially an unfair
difference. But this is not its only definition, nor is it the
preferred definition. It really means: The power of making
careful distinctions, to recognize differences in values, to
treat differently. distinguishing with care.
I do not wish to discuss the controversial subject of racial
discrimination with you this morning. I want to relate a
personal experience that dealt with this subject and discuss
some of its implications.
In 1950 a suit was filed against the Grand Lodge of the
District of Columbia for "discrimination." A non-Mason sued
our Grand Lodge for $150,000, charging that Masons had
unfairly discriminated against him, causing him to be
discharged from a government position and harassing him
on numerous occasions. He claimed that he had been asked
to join the Masonic Fraternity and, when he refused, the co-
workers in his office who were Masons turned against him,
giving him low efficiency ratings, disagreeable assignments
and the like. He claimed that later a group of Masons
interfered with his sale of some property causing financial
loss. These acts, he alleged, were because Masonry requires
its members to favor each other, to the unfair treatment of
The original suit was filed in 1950 while I was Grand
Master of the Grand Lodge. But the suit was filed in
Rockville, Maryland, and the court ruled that it did not have
jurisdiction over our Grand Lodge. The suit was then filed
in the District of Columbia in 1952. This was the year I was
Grand High Priest of our Grand Chapter.
All of the judges in our District of Columbia courts who
were Masons disqualified themselves, and the trial was held
before Judge Henry Schweinhaut, a non-Mason and Roman
I was called to testify at the trial as an antagonistic
witness, as the plaintiff wished to prove through my sworn
testimony that Masons discriminate against non-Masons. Of
course, this meant "unfair discrimination," acts of treating
non-Masons unfairly. And one way to prove this would be to
show that Masons are required to show preference to one
another, resulting in unfair treatment and at the expense of
I was on the witness stand for about one and three-
quarters hours. During this time many questions were asked
about our Grand Lodge structure, the Lodges, the degrees,
and manner of control exercised by Lodges and Grand
Lodges over their members. I was asked to identify, as
Masons, various government officials, from the President
and Cabinet members on down to the Bureau Chiefs and
others under whom the plaintiff had worked. This was not
difficult. Under oath I could only identify as Masons those
individuals with whom I had sat in a Lodge. All else would
have been hearsay.
I was asked what inducement we offered men to
persuade them to join the Masonic Fraternity, and when I
replied "None," I was asked what induced so many men to
join I mentioned many reasons why a man would come into
Freemasonry of "his own free will and accord."
It seemed that hundreds of questions were asked, but
there really weren't that many. At length, though, I was
questioned concerning the conduct of one Mason toward
I was specifically asked if the Masonic Fraternity exacted
a promise or pledge from its members to extend favors to
other members of the Fraternity. Upon testifying that no
such pledge is required, I was asked if it were not true that
Masons did extend favors to one another in business and in
various activities of life. Of course, we do and we not only
admit it but we're proud of it. I reminded the court that
such conduct, being of an entirely voluntary nature, was the
same as a person hailing from a particular state showing
preference for another person from that same state, or a
member of a church extending business favors to another of
the same denomination.
This proved to be a most fortunate line of inquiry, for
later the plaintiff asked that I be required to repeat the
Third Degree obligation, since they understand that it was
in this obligation that the Initiate was required to swear that
he would discriminate in favor of his Brethren.
The lawyer retained by our Grand Lodge objected. He
was overruled by the Judge. I was instructed to give the
obligation in open court by a Roman Catholic and non-
Frankly, I fully expected to be held in contempt of court.
The thoughts that ran through my mind included: What can
he do to me? Can he fine me and how much? Will this
jeopardize the trial against my Grand Lodge? Can he have
me locked up pending raising bail?
All I could say to the Judge was that I had already
testified under oath that Masonry did not exact a pledge of
discrimination from its members; that this statement
included all of the degree work and the Third Degree
This proved to be the correct response. The Judge
decreed that I would not be required to give the obligation.
At the conclusion of the trial, the Judge found our
Grand Lodge and Masonry to be innocent of this charge of
unfair discrimination. He lectured the plaintiff at some
length, telling him he has imagined many things and there
was not one shred of evidence that Masons had
discriminated against him. But does the Masonic Fraternity
discriminate? Do you as individuals discriminate? If you do,
are you ashamed of your conduct? Is it a sin to
discriminate? Is this an evil that we should avoid and
In an issue of The Oklahoma Mason, Bliss Kelly had an
article entitled "Does Masonry Discriminate?" He points out,
and I agree, that Masonry is the most discriminate fraternal
organization in the world. But this is not the unfair
discrimination we have been discussing. Many virtues
become sins if they are overemphasized, or if they are not
controlled. A religious faith can become sinful if it is
intolerant of the beliefs of others. Patriotism can be carried
to such an extreme as to deny others their just rights and
liberty. Freedom of the individual can become sinful if it
breeds contempt for the rights of others.
Discrimination is truly a virtue and should be practiced.
It becomes sinful only when it leads to the unfair treatment
Let's take a quick look at some of the ways both you and
the Masonic Fraternity practice discrimination.
You discriminate, that is, recognize a difference in value
when you select a necktie or an Easter bonnet. You look at
many and choose one, thereby rejecting all others in the
You discriminate when you choose your friends; when
you invite someone to your home for dinner. Possibly some
of you discriminated this morning when you selected your
table so as to be with compatible companions.
How does Freemasonry discriminate?
It discriminates in accepting into its membership only
men of good reputation and upright character, men who
believe in God, men of intelligence and integrity, men who
will be amenable to the teachings and philosophies of
Because we accept only such men in the Fraternity, we
discriminate against atheists, against men of low moral
character, against agitators, crackpots and demagogues.
We discriminate against women as members, allowing
none to become members of our Fraternity, regardless of
their good characters.
Within the Lodge, we discriminate against partisan
politics and business activity, and against sectarian beliefs.
And yet, Masonry works unceasingly to improve the lot
of mankind. We fight communism or any other movement
that would enslave the minds of men. We oppose violence
and crime. We aid in the rehabilitation of criminals. We
assist the handicapped, and we are charitable to the needy.
We promote obedience to law, honesty and integrity.
Though we discriminate against women. we love them,
delight to be with them, share our lives with them.
If Freemasonry did not discriminate - did not recognize
differences in values - it would not only be impotent, it
would have ceased to exist long ago. It is because of
discrimination that it is worthwhile, that it exercises a great
influence in the world, that it offers a challenge to its
Yes, Freemasonry discriminates. It recognizes differences
in values. We do not discriminate unfairly. Masons have
fought and died through the ages to obtain freedoms for all
me. We insist that all men must have freedom to worship as
they please. They must have freedom to chose their
associates; freedom to select their political leaders; freedom
We are proud to be members of the most discriminating
Fraternity in the world, because we realize that because it
does discriminate the Masonic Fraternity has exerted a
greater influence for good than any other organization in the
history of mankind.
Every Mason should know what duty demands of him. I
thrill to think of the terrific impact on America, and the
world, if each of our close to three million Masons and their
families were to solidly unite in the cause of freedom,
integrity, justice and Americanism.