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Freemasonry Watch

West Virgina Grand Master says he was wrongly expelled over permitting admission of black man to lodge

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The Charleston Gazette

Member of Masons says he was wrongly expelled

December 6, 2010

By Andrew Clevenger
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An administrative law judge testified Monday in Kanawha Circuit Court that he was expelled from the West Virginia branch of the Masons after he tried make the organization more inclusive toward minorities and people with disabilities.

Frank Joseph Haas, of Wellsburg, said that he joined the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of West Virginia in 1986. He always wanted to be a Mason, he said, largely because his father, uncles and cousins were members.

One great-grandfather was a Mason in Scotland, he said.

"I always considered myself to be a part of a Masonic family," he said.

Haas worked his way up to become Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, the state's overseeing Masonic body, in October 2005. During his one-year term, he tried to modernize the policies and practices of the state's Masons, he said.

"I wanted to make freemasonry more open, more inclusive, more compassionate," he said.

Haas said he was compelled to take action after a black member of a group recognized and accepted by the Masons was denied entrance to a Masonic meeting in Moundsville.

A clarification of Mason policy -- that it was wrong to exclude an otherwise welcome visitor based on nationality, race or religion -- was part of his agenda that passed at the end of his tenure as Grand Master, he said.

A rule change allowing people with physical disabilities to join the Masons also produced some bitter resistance, he said.

In November 2006, shortly after he had replaced Haas as Grand Master, Charles F. Coleman II sent a letter to every Masonic lodge in the state, reminding them that each lodge's Master -- roughly analogous to a chapter president -- had the discretion to decide which visitors to allow at his particular lodge.

"The [Masters'] prerogatives are to be exhibited with great care," Coleman wrote, adding that each Master should be mindful of the "peace and harmony" within his lodge.

Haas sued the West Virginia Masons, Coleman and Coleman's successor, Charlie L. Montgomery, in 2008, after Montgomery issued an edict in November 2007 that expelled Haas from the Masons.

Montgomery and Coleman wrongly believed that Haas was involved with a website called Masonic Crusade, which was critical of Montgomery and Coleman for purportedly trying to undo Haas' progressive reforms, Bob Allen, Haas' lawyer, said during his opening statement.

At a meeting in Haas' home lodge in Wellsburg, Montgomery "dressed him down and called him a liar," humiliating Haas in front of his friends and his father, Allen said. It was "a total ambush," he said.

Contrary to the Masons' rules, Haas was not given an opportunity to refute the allegations, he said. In fact, a Mason named Greg Wentzel was responsible for the website, he said.

After his expulsion, Haas lived for a while in Steubenville, Ohio, which allowed him to join the Ohio Masons, he said. In response, the West Virginia Masons cut all relations with the Ohio branch, he said.

Jim Tinney, representing the Masons and the two past Grand Masters, countered that Haas had lied when questioned about his knowledge and involvement with the website. The defendants could not defame Haas by accurately describing him as a liar, he said.

Moreover, as a private organization, the Masons are allowed to manage their own affairs, including who should be admitted or expelled, he said.

The trial continues Tuesday before Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster.

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