Atlanta Masons sue state body
By Peralte C. Paul
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
An Atlanta chapter of the Masons and its senior officer are suing the state body and two high-ranking members of other Georgia chapters, saying leaders are trying to disband them because they accepted a black man as a member.
Gate City Lodge No. 2 and its head, Michael J. Bjelajac, filed the complaint in DeKalb County Superior Court. It names the Grand Lodge of Georgia Free & Accepted Masons, the state level of an international fraternal organization; Douglas Hubert Ethridge of Atlanta; Starling A. “Sonny” Hicks of Stockbridge; and W. Franklin Aspinwall Jr. of Kingsland as defendants.
Aspinwall, a Georgia attorney, is named in the suit because he was appointed to chair the internal “trial” the group plans to have.
Bjelajac and Gate City claim when they accepted 26-year-old Victor Marshall into membership last fall, Hicks and Ethridge wrote letters to the state organization, saying allowing a nonwhite man into the group violated the association’s moral and Masonic laws.
Hicks and Ethridge are high-ranking in their respective chapters.
Hicks and Ethridge sought to have Bjelajac expelled from the group and the Gate City chapter dissolved.
Marshall, whose membership sparked the controversy, said he doesn’t regret his decision to join and that he doesn’t believe the current situation is reflective of most Georgia Freemasons.
“It’s not Freemasonry as a whole,” the Sandy Springs Army reservist said, explaining he has received e-mails of support from Masons around the state. “It’s these individuals who have forgotten what Freemasonry is all about.”
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent the internal trial from proceeding and to leave active Gate City’s charter, which dates to the 1880s.
J. Edward Jennings Jr., the Grand Master of the state organization, which is headquartered in Macon, wrote a letter dated Feb. 25 saying Marshall’s membership is legitimate and that he be received as a full Mason. That has not prevented the internal trial from moving ahead.
On Monday, Donald DeKalb, the group’s grand secretary, said the Grand Lodge of Georgia had no comment on the suit.
Hicks had no comment on the suit. Ethridge and Aspinwall could not be reached.
Gate City Lodge’s attorney, David J. Llewellyn, said Bjelajac cannot comment because his job as an Atlanta police officer prohibits him from public comments in lawsuits even if they are unrelated to his profession.
But Llewellyn, also a member of the Atlanta chapter, said he’s hopeful for an amicable resolution