Insider Advantage Georgia
July 2, 2009
Two Candidates For Governor Weigh-In On Masonic Controversy
Former Gov. Roy Barnes and David Poythress Masons, both, as well as rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Georgia – weigh-in on the controversy over alleged racism in their order as the head of Georgia Masonry says the charges submitted for trial to a Masonic “court” that spawned a civil court lawsuit and drew national attention to the matter are being dropped.
But the lawyer for the Atlanta lodge at the center of the firestorm says the civil suit isnt being withdrawn because its members believe there are continuing efforts on other fronts by some in the centuries-old brotherhood to punish them for admitting a black man as a member.
The story hit The APs national newswire on Tuesday and was featured in online editions of such newspapers as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. It was reported locally by the AJC, and had been kicking around Masonic Internet blogs for more than a week.
The suit, which was filed in DeKalb Superior Court, seeks a restraining order against the Grand Lodge of Georgia, whose Grand Master the top official in Georgia – had referred to a Masonic trial the charges brought against Atlantas Gate City Lodge #2 by the heads of two other lodges for admitting a non-white man to the organization.
The suit contends there is no prohibition in the Masonic rules against the admission of a black man and that the charges spring from racial animosity and hatred It also contends the Masonic trial was being rushed toward a Star Chamber; proceeding in bad faith and questioned why the case was even proceeding when the Grand Master, himself, had declared just a few months earlier that the black Mason is a regular Mason and should be received as such
Among the remedies it seeks is an injunction prohibiting the Grand Lodge from proceeding with the original charges or under any subterfuge whatsoever that could result in expelling the lodge, its officers or members from the order.
Poythress, a Mason for more than a decade, told InsiderAdvantage Wednesday afternoon he spoke to the Grand Master after the charges hit the media. He authorized me to say that he is preparing a public statement that will definitively eliminate the question about whether a person of any race can be a member of Masonry they can
Poythress said he is certain that are some individual Masons in Georgia who are racially biased, but does not believe they represent the bulk of Masonic membership or the precepts of the organization.
Barnes said in an e-mailed statement to Insider: As stated by Grand Master Ed Jennings … there is no color or racial prohibition to be a member of the Masons. As he further noted, Mr. (Victor) Marshall was correctly admitted as a member of the Gate City Lodge. This is correct and I agree with it. I would not be a member of an organization that would exclude persons on the basis of race.
Asked why he thought the Grand Master would first issue a declaration stating that Marshall was a regular Mason but then refer to a Masonic trial the charges attempting to assert that he wasnt, Barnes, a lawyer, wrote: I dont know enough about Masonic law to be able to tell you whether it was correct. He may have had no choice. I simply don’t know.”
(Masons have been deeply involved in Georgia’s political and governmental fabric since the days of General Oglethorpe.)
But even if there is now to be no Masonic “trial,” the lawsuit in the civil courts will continue, said David Llewellyn, a member of Gate City Lodge #2 and one of its attorneys in the case.
The Grand Master’s withdrawal of the case “accomplishes one purpose of the suit but there are other (issues) involved which include the fact that this appears to be an effort to punish those of us who belong to this lodge,” he said.
Llewellyn added, “The Lodge and Brother Bjelajac (the leader of the local lodge, known as a Worshipful Master) want to make sure this isn’t a continuing effort.”
Among the group’s concerns, he said, is that a separate petition is circulating among some of the other local lodges in Georgia to convene a special session of the Grand Lodge. “It doesn’t say why, but we have reason to believe it is to revoke our charter. We believe it would be without due process.”
The attorney said the lodge hopes to settle the suit through an agreement “so that there will be clear rules that have to be followed, and people can’t punish us because they don’t like us. We also hope what comes out of the statement by the Grand Master is a recognition of truth – that Freemasonry does not discriminate on the basis of race.”
Masons perform a considerable amount of charitable work throughout Georgia, and have done so for years with little publicity because of secrecy rules governing its recognition signs and rituals. The lawsuit and accompanying publicity provides a rare look behind the curtains at internal controversy that usually is handled in private.