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Freemasonry Watch




Judge sues W.Va. Masons over his expulsion by Grand Master




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Sunday Gazette - Charleston West Virginia
http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/200806080397

June 9, 2008

Judge sues W.Va. Masons

An administrative law judge from Brooke County has filed a lawsuit against the West Virginia branch of the Masons, claiming they wrongly expelled him for trying to make the organization more inclusive.

By Andrew Clevenger
Staff writer

An administrative law judge from Brooke County has filed a lawsuit against the West Virginia branch of the Masons, claiming they wrongly expelled him for trying to make the organization more inclusive.

According to the lawsuit filed May 30 in Kanawha Circuit Court, Charlie L. Montgomery and Charles F. Coleman II, both officers of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of West Virginia Inc., summarily threw Frank Joseph Haas out of the Masons for fabricated reasons.

Montgomery and Coleman are named as defendants in the suit, as is the Grand Lodge and several John Does.

Haas' lawsuit offers a glimpse into the world of the Masons, a centuries-old organization that traces its roots back to the United Kingdom. While the society is not exactly secretive, it has often been veiled in mystery, as some of its customs and practices are not revealed to non-members.

Haas joined the Masonic Lodge in Wellsburg in 1986, four years after he earned his law degree from West Virginia University. After years of dedicated service, Haas became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in October 2005, the suit maintains.

As Grand Master, Haas tried to make the organization's policies less discriminatory and racist and more in line with the U.S. Constitution and the state's public policy, the suit contends.

"Haas' goal was to make Masonry more tolerant, friendly, decent and accepting of everyone regardless of nationality, race, religion or disability," the suit states.

In October 2006, members of the Grand Lodge voted to adopt the progressive reforms put forward by Haas, the lawsuit alleges.

"These reforms and proposals were intended to rid Masonry in West Virginia of [its] Orwellian, repressive, regressive and unconstitutional practices," the lawsuit states.

In response, Coleman, who succeeded Haas as Grand Master, "almost immediately unilaterally entered various edicts rendering the progressive proposals voted on and adopted by a majority of Defendant Grand Lodge null and void," the suit claims.

Coleman justified his actions by claiming that the vote was invalid because of procedural errors, the suit alleges. But no Masons were punished for the alleged errors, and no further votes on the reforms have been allowed since, according to Haas.

Over the next year, Haas continued to speak out about the Grand Lodge's ethical, moral and legal obligations to reform its policies, the lawsuit maintains.

An administrative law judge from Brooke County has filed a lawsuit against the West Virginia branch of the Masons, claiming they wrongly expelled him for trying to make the organization more inclusive.

According to the lawsuit filed May 30 in Kanawha Circuit Court, Charlie L. Montgomery and Charles F. Coleman II, both officers of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of West Virginia Inc., summarily threw Frank Joseph Haas out of the Masons for fabricated reasons.

Montgomery and Coleman are named as defendants in the suit, as is the Grand Lodge and several John Does.

Haas' lawsuit offers a glimpse into the world of the Masons, a centuries-old organization that traces its roots back to the United Kingdom. While the society is not exactly secretive, it has often been veiled in mystery, as some of its customs and practices are not revealed to non-members.

Haas joined the Masonic Lodge in Wellsburg in 1986, four years after he earned his law degree from West Virginia University. After years of dedicated service, Haas became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in October 2005, the suit maintains.

As Grand Master, Haas tried to make the organization's policies less discriminatory and racist and more in line with the U.S. Constitution and the state's public policy, the suit contends.

"Haas' goal was to make Masonry more tolerant, friendly, decent and accepting of everyone regardless of nationality, race, religion or disability," the suit states.

In October 2006, members of the Grand Lodge voted to adopt the progressive reforms put forward by Haas, the lawsuit alleges.

"These reforms and proposals were intended to rid Masonry in West Virginia of [its] Orwellian, repressive, regressive and unconstitutional practices," the lawsuit states.

In response, Coleman, who succeeded Haas as Grand Master, "almost immediately unilaterally entered various edicts rendering the progressive proposals voted on and adopted by a majority of Defendant Grand Lodge null and void," the suit claims.

Coleman justified his actions by claiming that the vote was invalid because of procedural errors, the suit alleges. But no Masons were punished for the alleged errors, and no further votes on the reforms have been allowed since, according to Haas.

Over the next year, Haas continued to speak out about the Grand Lodge's ethical, moral and legal obligations to reform its policies, the lawsuit maintains.

Eventually, Haas was ambushed and given the "Masonic death sentence" at a November 2007 meeting called by Montgomery at Haas' home lodge in Wellsburg. Montgomery dressed him down in front of his longtime fellow members, including his father.

"[Montgomery] took charge of the meeting and summarily, arbitrarily and unlawfully expelled Plaintiff Haas and another individual from Masonry after lecturing, berating and belittling them," the suit reads. "Montgomery's ranting and outlandish attack on Plaintiff Haas were based on trumped up allegations that were false and untrue."

Haas had no opportunity to defend himself against the spurious charges, and the edict expelling Haas had been prepared in advance, the lawsuit states.

In addition, Montgomery had the edict expelling Haas read in every Masonic Lodge in West Virginia, and ordered all Masons not to communicate with Haas about Masonic matters, the suit contends.

Haas is represented by Charleston attorney Robert Allen, who is himself a longtime Mason.

The suit alleges that the defendants defamed Haas by insinuating that he was not a truthful person and failed to comply with his Masonic obligations. These false accusations have harmed his standing in the community and hurt his reputation as a jurist, Haas claims.

The expulsion has also cost Haas the right to retire to the West Virginia Masonic Home and the ability to have a Masonic funeral with other Masons serving as pallbearers, according to the suit.

The Grand Lodge's principal office address is listed as the Masonic Temple at 107 Hale St. on the Secretary of State's Web site. Coleman, of Cross Lanes, and Montgomery, of Parkersburg, are listed as the organization's president and vice president, respectively.

The suit has been assigned to Judge Jim Stucky.

While it is not clear whether the court has the right to tell a private organization how to conduct its business, Haas maintains that the harm done to him outweighs the Grand Lodge's "interest in autonomy and freedom from judicial oversight."

Haas' suit seeks his reinstatement as a Mason and asks that any Masonic record of his expulsion be expunged. It also seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

Eventually, Haas was ambushed and given the "Masonic death sentence" at a November 2007 meeting called by Montgomery at Haas' home lodge in Wellsburg. Montgomery dressed him down in front of his longtime fellow members, including his father.

"[Montgomery] took charge of the meeting and summarily, arbitrarily and unlawfully expelled Plaintiff Haas and another individual from Masonry after lecturing, berating and belittling them," the suit reads. "Montgomery's ranting and outlandish attack on Plaintiff Haas were based on trumped up allegations that were false and untrue."

Haas had no opportunity to defend himself against the spurious charges, and the edict expelling Haas had been prepared in advance, the lawsuit states.

In addition, Montgomery had the edict expelling Haas read in every Masonic Lodge in West Virginia, and ordered all Masons not to communicate with Haas about Masonic matters, the suit contends.

Haas is represented by Charleston attorney Robert Allen, who is himself a longtime Mason.

The suit alleges that the defendants defamed Haas by insinuating that he was not a truthful person and failed to comply with his Masonic obligations. These false accusations have harmed his standing in the community and hurt his reputation as a jurist, Haas claims.

The expulsion has also cost Haas the right to retire to the West Virginia Masonic Home and the ability to have a Masonic funeral with other Masons serving as pallbearers, according to the suit.

The Grand Lodge's principal office address is listed as the Masonic Temple at 107 Hale St. on the Secretary of State's Web site. Coleman, of Cross Lanes, and Montgomery, of Parkersburg, are listed as the organization's president and vice president, respectively.

The suit has been assigned to Judge Jim Stucky.

While it is not clear whether the court has the right to tell a private organization how to conduct its business, Haas maintains that the harm done to him outweighs the Grand Lodge's "interest in autonomy and freedom from judicial oversight."

Haas' suit seeks his reinstatement as a Mason and asks that any Masonic record of his expulsion be expunged. It also seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

To contact staff writer Andrew Clevenger, use e-mail or call 348-1723.









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