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Washington State School District Cancels Freemasons Cornerstone Laying Ritual

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The Herald of Everett, Washington

Arlington school kills cornerstone

Sept. 26, 2002

By Eric Stevick
Herald Writer

ARLINGTON -- A new elementary school will not have an engraved cornerstone provided by the Freemasons of Washington after community objections that the fraternal organization constitutes a religious group and would be getting preferential treatment.

The Arlington School District had planned to have the cornerstone ceremony today, 90 minutes before a formal communitywide dedication of Pioneer Elementary School.

It was canceled after school district leaders heard community concerns that the Masons could be considered a religious group and would be receiving preference over other civic or religious organizations.

"We have to walk a real neutral road because we are a public institution," said Rob Pattermann, an assistant school district superintendent. "When we get into an area where it feels like there is preferential treatment given to one group over another, that's when we become cautious."

The engraved granite would have included the name of the school, the year it was dedicated and a reference to the Freemasons.

Freemason-engraved cornerstones are common across the country and around the world. Masonic lodges have been providing cornerstones for hundreds of years, said Dave Owen, grand secretary of the Freemasons of Washington.

Owen said the cancellation caught his organization by surprise.

"It is unusual," Owen said. "What really I think it is, is the political correctness of our school system."

"I'm disappointed," said Boyd McPherson, master of Arlington Masonic Lodge 129. "I don't understand why there would be a big deal."

The district received more than a dozen phone calls from area residents. Three people voiced their concerns at a Arlington School Board meeting Monday.

Mike Cole, whose wife is a retired district teacher and whose father was a member of the Masons, said he considers the group to be a religious organization.

Greg White, a pastor at the Arlington Assembly of God, raised the issue of equal access.

"It's not a matter of church and state to me," he said. "It's a matter of equal access.

"I think the equal access laws are very, very clear. All or nobody."

Owen said Masons come from many different professions. While Masons believe in a supreme being, the organization is not a religious group and keeps discussions of politics and religion out of its lodge meetings, he said.

"We do this (the cornerstones) out of tradition and a sort of legacy, if you will," Owen said.

Owen described the cornerstone-laying practice as a community service.

"It may be a way of imparting in society that when you build your life, it should be done in a way that is supported by good things," he said.

Pattermann, the district's assistant superintendent, said the philosophical debate over the cornerstone should not affect tonight's community dedication of the school.

The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. at the school, 8213 Eaglefield Drive, and includes a flag presentation, ribbon cutting, PTA presentation and self-guided tours.

Further Reading:

Pillars of the Community