"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Mille Regretez

by Christopher Hodapp

Deepest apologies for no updated stories here for the last couple of weeks. Alice and I are in the final deadline week for our new book project. 

Folks have asked what we're working on, and since Wiley has now put up the pre-sale listing on Amazon, there's no point being coy about it anymore. RVs and Campers For Dummies is due to be officially released on June 24th, 2021.

The Wiley Publishing folks operate a well-oiled machine, and they have a definitive working methodology from which we cannot deviate. So we're burrowed in, wrapping up the manuscript and photo submissions. What that means in practical terms is wake up, type, forage for food, type, pass out, wake up, type, pass out, rinse, repeat. Phone calls and emails go unanswered, and if we could teach the poodle to use the can opener, we'd have her cook something. 

Once we've sent off the last of it, we get three weeks of 'author review,' which means the editors pore over the manuscript, make corrections, edits, and suggestions, rearrange paragraphs and whole chapters, put it back together again before the art and production teams do their stuff. And then we get to crawl outside, and if we see our shadows, we know there are six more weeks before publication.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

GL New York's Jurisprudence Committee Weighs In

by Christopher Hodapp

The Grand Lodge of New York's Jurisprudence Committee has weighed in on the permissibility of Grand Master William Sardone's rescheduling of their annual meeting for 2021 due to statewide pandemic restrictions on large group meetings. 

Click the image above to enlarge.

Because the state of New York is permitting only small groups to assemble at this time, GM Sardone's announcement over the weekend detailed a plan to open their Annual Communication on May 3rd and officially receive all committee reports without action. The GM will then call the meeting from labor to refreshment until the state permits larger group meetings, hopefully later in the year. Whenever that occurs, the meeting will then be called up from refreshment back to labor for votes to approve reports and elect officers. Jurisprudence approves of his decision.

This is not dissimilar to the way many jurisdictions permit lodges to open a Lodge of Sorrow at the beginning of each year for the purpose of conducting funeral services for fallen Masons. A Lodge of Sorrow is opened and called to refreshment, and remains in that suspended circumstance for the entire year, instead of requiring a lodge to meet, open, go to a funeral home, conduct a service, go back to the lodge, and close. Then the minutes of that Lodge of Sorrow at the end of the year list all of the deceased brethren who passed away while it remained open.

Their committee did address the constitutionality of electronic Zoom-style technology being used for a tyled grand lodge session:
"There is much interest in implementing teleconferencing technology for our Annual Communication. The Jurisprudence Committee supports the adoption of such technology recognizing that this kind of application is a particularly useful tool. However, there is no provision in the current Constitutions permitting its use in a Tiled Grand Lodge Annual Communication. The Grand Master has charged Right Worshipful Richard J. Kessler, Deputy grand Master, to come up with proposed changes to amend the Constitutions permitting its use in emergency situations."

For lots of Masons, this is all sort of like watching sausage being made. But it comes on the heels of the situation in South Carolina over virtual meetings, as well as being an example for other grand lodges as 2021 unfolds with continuing pandemic restrictions imposed by state and local governments.


Sunday, February 07, 2021

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Virtual Meetings: Open Letter To New York GM Circulated

by Christopher Hodapp

Grand lodges all across the country – and around the world – have struggled over the last 10 months with the problem of how to hold their constitutionally-required annual meetings and grand officer elections. Because of the COVID pandemic shutdowns and the fears of spreading the virus throughout Masonry's population of older at-risk members, the tradition of normally advancing officers at annual meetings has been short circuited. Some jurisdictions have held online Zoom annual meetings (and even elections), some have reduced their in-person annual meeting to a simple quorum to transact their basic business and elections. But the majority have agreed to keep their grand officers in their places for an additional year in the hope that 2021 will be back to normal.

These are not easy decisions. Men who dedicate between five and ten years to slowly advance through their state's grand lodge officers' line set aside an enormous part of their personal lives and finances as they approach the Grand East. In a very large jurisdiction with hundreds of lodges, grand masters can spend the bulk of their year on the road visiting lodges, rededicating temples, presiding over numerous committee, foundation and trustee meetings, speaking at appendant body gatherings, along with out of state travel to national appendent body meetings, the Conference of Grand Masters, plus neighboring grand lodge meetings and events representing your state. It's common for a grand master to be on the road six and seven days a week. And very few jurisdictions pay their grand master any sort of stipend for giving up their family and business life for a year. Not every grand master is a retiree, and planning for that kind of deep commitment to the fraternity for a man who continues to work for a living is something few of us could be reasonably expected to do.

When 2020 – and now 2021 – ground our fraternity to a halt, it also yanked the foundation stones out from under the men in grand lodge lines who all had plans and hopes and goals to achieve in their year as grand master. Worse, it also threw a spanner in the works for the next men in line who were making their own future financial, domestic or retirement plans based on the serving their year in the Grand East. 

In my own jurisdiction, our sitting Grand Master was elected in May 2019 and slated to be succeeded by his Deputy Grand Master last May. When our annual communication was delayed and rescheduled twice, it was clear there could be no meeting or election for 2020. I was actually present when our GL officers calmly talked about the best way to address this once in a lifetime situation. The decision was arrived at by mutual agreement that our current GM would remain for another year until May 2021, and all officers and committees would stay in place until then. But it seems that other jurisdictions have not been as harmonious in coming to their own decisions about officer advancement.

New York Grand Master William Sardone

The Grand Lodge of New York has apparently had some internal struggles and disagreements about how to deal with this problem. New York is one of the largest jurisdictions in the country, and their grand masters are normally elected for two year terms. Last May's annual meeting was cancelled due to COVID. But a few weeks ago, Grand Master William M. Sardone announced that the May 2021 meeting (and its elections) would also be cancelled, and all officers would stay in place. Despite the fact that committees had been working on plans for a virtual, online annual meeting, GM Sardone apparently scuttled that idea.

New York Grand Treasurer Steven Adam Rubin

In response, the following open letter was briefly posted a week ago on the Grand Lodge Facebook page, written by their Grand Treasurer, Steven Adam Rubin. 

An Open Letter to our Grand Master
January 29, 2021

Dear Grand Master:

I know I speak for all of our brothers, that we are glad that you continue to recover from Covid and we pray for your continued good health. Yet, I listened with concern to your Thursday Night Zoom Meeting in which you announced that the Grand Lodge Session would not be held this May 2021 as is required by our Constitutions, foreshadowing the likelihood that we will not hold Grand Lodge for an extraordinary, two years. During the twelve years I served as one of our Grand Lodge’s two legal advisers, Proctor and Judge Advocate, I provided six (6) Grand Masters quiet counsel. Your pronouncement Thursday evening, without first seeking the input of any of your elected Officers, and seemingly disregarding the advice of your own Judge Advocate who has approved the Constitutionality of a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, has caused me to send you this Open Letter. I do so with respect for your Office and love for our Craft.

Grand Master, our Constitutions must be obeyed. Period. End of Discussion. It is a legal document that establishes guidelines that must be honored with the strictest of obedience. It is a mandate, not a suggestion. That is your duty as Grand Master. That is our duty as Master Masons. Indeed, that was your oath and obligation you swore to uphold when you placed your hands on the George Washington Bible and took your Oath of Office. The path you have started down is a dangerous one, for no one, not even a Grand Master is above the law.

Last year you unilaterally chose to “adjourn” Grand Lodge, arguing that you would employ a technique used in 1945 by a then Grand Master who was unable to hold a Grand Lodge Session because of war-time restrictions. Even though it was clear that you sought little, if any, exploration of technical options to conduct a remote, or Virtual Grand Lodge Session in May 2020, we never questioned your decision. Even when you chose not to “adjourn” Grand Lodge as you said you would, but ultimately canceled the 2020 Session, no one argued. For we recognized that these have been extraordinary times, and your brothers were not going to fault you for failing to ensure that a proper plan was implemented during the early days of the pandemic.

Yet, it was at that time, nearly one year ago that I, and others, urged you to marshal our forces, our Grand Lodge Committees and any brother with the requisite skill set who could provide clear guidance regarding the options and alternatives available to ensure that our Constitutional mandate--to hold a Grand Lodge Session-- would be met. What was done during these many months? What committees were charged with this mission? What were their findings? What were their conclusions? I certainly don’t know, and from what I have gathered, not many do. Instead, you have thrown around figures and conclusions and anecdotal evidence unsupported by documentary evidence, and ask us to disregard our Constitutions based upon hollow arguments.

Moreover, to give the impression to the Brethren that you are in constant communication with the Deputy Grand Master, for this and all matters, I seriously question, as a rumor has circulated that our Deputy Grand Master was not even informed that you were admitted to the hospital for four (4) days with Covid and pneumonia and that he only found out via the general email that was sent to all members following your release from the hospital. I don’t know if this is accurate, but if it is, it is certainly not the manner our brethren expect that our Grand Lodge operates when our Grand Master is hospitalized with such a serious condition.

Sadly, it would not surprise me if true, as you chose to keep the elected Grand Line out of your decision making process concerning the 2021 Grand Lodge Session. Indeed, when rumors began to circulate that you had disbanded the Deputy Grand Master’s IT team working on implementing plans for our May 2021 Grand Lodge Session, I thereafter sent you an email on November 10, 2020, copying our elected Grand Line Officers. In the email I urged you to include your elected Grand Line in the decision making process, so that we could assist you in this most important undertaking. Yet, you chose to ignore my email, not even offering the courtesy of a reply. So when you now ask that brothers only email you, I am sure you can understand my bemusement, and the smile that crossed my face, for that certainly did not work with my entreaty. Moreover, your suggestion that our brothers shouldn’t use social media to communicate with each other and express their views concerning your momentous decision, is most curious, as the request is coming from a Grand Master who disseminates nearly all of his messages to the Brethren via Facetime movies. Indeed, attempting to limit brothers’ First Amendment Rights and inhibit open and honest dialogue is the formula for tyranny. I am not suggesting that is what you seek, but actions do have consequences.

But I digress, for it was over two months later, following my November email--two days ago-- when you called a virtual meeting of the elected Grand Line, the day before you made your January 28, 2021 virtual announcement to the Craft. It was not input, advice, discussion or counsel you sought from the elected Grand Line Officers, but acquiescence. Grand Master, I have had conversations with your own Judge Advocate who has indicated that there is no Constitutional impediment or prohibition to a Virtual Grand Lodge Session. As the immediate Past Judge Advocate, I agree. If you are asking for Legal Authority, there you go. While you have failed to provide the names of the Past Grand Masters who you purport support your plan, in many respects it is irrelevant. For I love and respect all of our Past Grand Masters, but to suggest that they, and they alone, have the authority to determine the Constitutionality of your conduct, or permit you to follow some outdated and outmoded scheme employed some seventy-six (76) years ago, is simply not accurate--Factually, Legally and Masonically. As such, by not holding a Grand Lodge Session, either Virtually, In-Person or a combination of the two, you are violating our Constitutions. It is that simple.

Moreover, claiming that you are doing so to protect the vote of all of our members sounds rather hollow when I never once heard anyone's concern for the numerous Lodges that are disenfranchised each year because they can’t afford the travel costs to New York City. You suggested in your Zoom meeting that another reason not to have a Virtual Grand Lodge Session is because not everyone has a computer. Should any brother with a right to attend our Virtual Grand Lodge Session indicate that they do not have a computer to login, I am certain suitable accommodations would be made. The cynical suggestion that brothers would not assist their brothers, is simply not the Masonry I know and love.

To further suggest that the cost is prohibitive to permit a Virtual Grand Lodge Session flies in the face of the countless Grand Lodges and Concordant Bodies that have held Virtual Grand Sessions. Moreover, what was the Grand Lodge budget for foreign travel during your first two years? How many tens of thousand of dollars were spent? I seem to recall one first-class plane ticket to Scotland for nearly $10,000.00. Nor have I heard that Grand Lodge has waived Lodges’ per capita requirements. To suggest that the Grand Lodge of the State of New York can’t afford a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some hybrid, is hogwash. Indeed, as Judge Advocate, the Masonic Legal Adviser, of the Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, I am aware of their plans for a Virtual Grand Chapter Session. With many of the same Constitutional requirements as our Grand Lodge’s, the cost I am informed, will be well below $10,000.00.

To further argue that it is not feasible to hold a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some hybrid option, because of technical concerns, also proves specious. Indeed, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and its Commandery, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, the Grand Lodge of Maine, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, the Grand Lodge of New Mexico and its York Rite Bodies, the Grand Lodge of South Dakota, the Grand Lodge of Michigan, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, the Grand Lodge of Illinois and the Grand Lodge of Colorado, are just a small sampling of the many Grand Jurisdictions that have held either Virtual, In-Person, or hybrid Grand Sessions this past year. I am further aware that General Grand Chapter International Royal Arch Masons, General Grand Council International (Cryptic Masons), and other International Masonic Bodies have all held Virtual Sessions. In fact , I am informed that some of those bodies handled approximately 600-700 Virtual Participants, some even logging in worldwide! Were there hiccups? Probably, but those Bodies should be applauded for their efforts. Will there be technical issues at our Virtual Grand Lodge Session? Probably, but what a small price to pay to fulfill our Constitutional obligation--or at least to try!

The point is, so many Grand Lodges and Concordant Bodies from around the country, and the world, have seen fit to get it done. Found the will. Found the path forward to hold their Grand Jurisdiction’s Grand Session and fulfill their Constitutional obligations. Indeed, as I am sure you know, even the Conference of Grand Masters and Conference of Grand Secretaries are being conducted remotely this year. Yet, the Grand Lodge of the State of New York can’t? To not try, to simply cancel a Constitutionally mandated Grand Lodge Session because of some anecdotal evidence, exaggerated concern, or fear of the natural limitations in whatever option is chosen, is simply a dereliction of our duty. Indeed, how can our Grand Body operate for yet another year without passing a budget? How can you justify not attempting to find some solution that would ensure the thoughtful exercise of our membership’s rights to elect its Leadership, including the Trustees of the Masonic Hall and Home, the Masonic Medical Research Institute, the Chancellor Robert R Livingston Library and the Masonic War Veterans. Your decision, not only disenfranchises our membership, but has serious implications for the lawful governance of our Institution.
What is most troubling about your pronouncement Grand Master, is that it has been said by some, that long ago you were made aware that our Grand Lodge does have the ability to hold secure and credentialed elections for all voting members; that long ago you were made aware that our Grand Lodge does have the technology and tools to hold a 100% Virtual Grand Lodge Session using industry standard video conferencing services at a minimal cost; that long ago you were made aware that our Grand Lodge does have the ability to use Groupable to ensure that only those brothers legally permitted to attend this Virtual Session are in attendance.

Some have further suggested that you were provided multiple plans that would ensure a Constitutionally viable Virtual Grand Lodge Session while keeping Brothers socially distant and safe; and that you were further informed that a Virtual Grand Lodge Session could ensure that a proper and legal election could be held, even providing for brothers being nominated “from the floor”. In other words, conducting the business of Grand Lodge virtually and securely. Is this correct? Were you provided this information and refused to act? Did you disband the Deputy Grand Master’s IT Team? Why have we not heard from these brothers, or those you indicate “advised” you regarding the options that you now claim are not feasible? Why is it that after so many months, you have for the first time merely provided anecdotal evidence with nothing substantive or concrete to support your extraordinary position, disenfranchising an entire Grand Lodge in the process? No brother prefers a Virtual Lodge meeting or Virtual Grand Lodge Session, to in-person. That will come, God willing soon. Until then, if a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some hybrid, is the only realistic option available, then that is what we must do to ensure that the business of Masonry and the business of our Grand Lodge is conducted and that we are satisfying our Constitutional duty. When you suggest that our brothers would prefer to not hold our Constitutionally mandated Grand Lodge Session because of an intolerance to potential technical difficulties that may occur during a Virtual Session, you underestimate our brothers and do a disservice to their integrity.

Grand Master, some have suggested that this is nothing short of a power grab, a Grand Master unwilling to give up power. I do not suggest that this is your motivation. I would like to think that your ill conceived decision emanates from a lack of information, or proper advice, rather than some nefarious, self-indulgent, motivation. Should you wish to serve a fourth year, however, while repugnant to the Spirit of our Constitutions as we have relied upon the good will of brothers for nearly a century to voluntarily step down after two years of service, as there are no “official” term limits, you could in theory run. Not holding a Grand Lodge Session, thereby extending your term of Office beyond that which is permitted under our Constitutions and then holding a future Grand Lodge Session only when you deem acceptable, is simply not an option. I hope you will agree, we do not have Kings in Masonry, we have Brothers.

I urge you to reconsider this destructive path you have started down. I urge you to reconsider your decision, authorize a Virtual Grand Lodge Session, or some suitable and acceptable alternative, for history will be our judge.

Fraternally and Respectfully Submitted,
RW Steven Adam Rubin
Grand Treasurer
Grand Lodge of the State of New York

Friday, February 05, 2021

UPDATED: Irony At Its Most Ironic-est

by Christopher Hodapp

NOTE: This story has been updated.

Like so many other groups all over the world, the annual Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America has been forced to drop its in-person meeting this year because of the COVID pandemic. I'm sure the brethren in Seattle, Washington who had been preparing to host this event for several years are greatly disappointed. But the event will go on. 

This year's COGMMNA will be an online event. So is the concurrent Conference of Grand Secretaries.

A video conference.

Live streamed. 

Over the Internet.

I just looked at the list of officers for this year's Conference. When what to my wondering eyes did appear, but the name of the Vice-Chairman (the second in command). 

None other than South Carolina Grand Master Walter C. Disher II.

Would it be unnecessarily churlish to ask if he's not going to participate in the conference, since it violates his own edict against electronic Masonic gatherings for which a PGM was just expelled? Or might he consider expelling himself?

It's a conundrum.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

South Carolina PGM Mike Smith Expelled Over Zoom Meeting

South Carolina Past Grand Master Michael D. Smith

by Christopher Hodapp

UPDATE: This article was been updated on 2/5/2021 at 6:00PM to correct information about the number of Zoom gatherings held online by Mike Smith. The original post incorrectly stated that one meeting was held. 

A story from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina has been brewing for several months under the wire, but details are starting to come to light. According to several sources, South Carolina Past Grand Master Michael D. Smith has been expelled from the fraternity following a Grand Lodge trial commission on January 30th.

PGM Smith served as Grand Master in 2017-19 (South Carolina's GMs serve two year terms.) Prior to his expulsion, he was serving as Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction (second in command only to the Grand Commander), as well as SGIG for the Orient of South Carolina. Mike Smith is widely admired and well-liked, not only in his home state, but throughout the wider Masonic community, and his expulsion comes as a shock to many Masons. He has been a Freemason since 1980.

PGM Smith's bio page is still available for the time being on the GL of SC website HERE. His many accomplishments and offices held are impressive.

Mike Smith's expulsion is rooted in a violation of edicts issued last year during the COVID pandemic by current Grand Master Walter C.(Cal) Disher II. On May 29, 2020, GM Disher ordered that all Masonic meetings in South Carolina to be suspended "until further notice."

"As a reminder, no Lodge Hall is to be used during this time period," the notice read.  "I have stopped several Lodge functions that Lodge members organized either through ZOOM Media, phone, or other venues. Brethren, as a reminder, it is a grave Masonic Offense, to conduct any irregular meeting or business during this time."

A written notice was sent to lodges in June reiterating his edict forbidding all Masonic meetings, in person or via electronic means. While the Grand Lodge office may be communicating with lodges and members via their private Grandview system, neither their public web page nor their Facebook account have been updated since last summer. Lodges remained completely closed until December when new guidelines were finally issued for limited in-person lodge meetings, under heavy restrictions. But South Carolina brethren are still forbidden to engage in any sort of virtual meeting of any kind as Masons, even if ritual is not involved or no lodge business is conducted.

In his role as SGIG for South Carolina, sources say, Mike Smith held a series of seven informal Zoom gatherings for the state's six Scottish Rite Valleys and four SR clubs. These were described by several participants as  'How is everybody doing?' health checks and good cheer sessions. These were not tyled meetings, or even private ones – some sources say no Masonic business was conducted, although one observer indicated that, in at least one case, the names of some new Scottish Rite petitioners were read and accepted. At least one attendee claims that Smith informed the Grand Master ahead of time that he wanted to conduct these sessions, and was acting in good faith because the Grand Master raised no objection. Nevertheless, after the event, Grand Master Disher deemed it to be a violation of his 'no electronic Masonic meeting' edict and sought charges against Smith. 

Some say that GM Disher also discussed bringing charges against close to 150 South Carolina Scottish Rite Masons who participated in the Zoom call.

In South Carolina, the Grand Junior Warden is normally charged by their Constitution to bring charges against an accused Mason, who is to be tried in his own lodge. Mike Smith has been a longtime member of Landrum Lodge 278. But a trial by the lodge was denied by GM Disher, who declared that an appointed Grand Lodge commission would instead conduct the proceedings. 

And then about three weeks ago, the Grand Master appeared at Landrum Lodge and revoked their charter.

Longtime readers here may remember the name of South Carolina Past Grand Master Jay Adam Pearson. In 2013, when he was serving as Grand Master, he suspended South Carolina's relations with the Shrine. Then in 2016, he sent me a snide letter excoriating me for publicly reporting on expulsions in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas (where he is, as he informed me, an "honorary member of their Grand Lodge"). Instead of South Carolina’s Grand Junior Warden bringing charges against Smith as their Constitution directs, PGM Pearson was named as the head of the trial commission. Two sources have reported that the trial commission also included one or more members of PGM Pearson's own family, notably, his father.

According to attendees, Smith's trial session last week was quite long – over ten hours. Witnesses were called, but because of COVID meeting restrictions, they were forced to remain outside in their cars in bitter cold weather while waiting to testify one at a time.

PGM Jay Adam Pearson

Not that there could be any sort of connection, but both Jay Adam Pearson and Mike Smith were considered as possible successors for the Grand Secretary's position at the upcoming annual communication. Now, obviously, PGM Smith is no longer eligible, and his 40 year Masonic career has been scuttled. The current Grand Secretary, Gerald L Carver, PGM, is Pearson's ex-father-in-law.

And then, lurking in the background is the ghost of Prince Hall. South Carolina is one of just seven remaining state grand lodges that does not have amity with their Prince Hall grand lodge counterpart. There was a whisper campaign that PGM Smith was a proponent of Prince Hall recognition. Of course, PGM Pearson has made his opinion known to me in the past of what he thinks of so-called "liberal, forward-thinking Masons" who advocate for Price Hall recognition.

Before PGM Pearson dashes off another multi-page letter to me explaining all of the ways I am "in error" on these events, I want to clearly state that I have not spoken or corresponded with PGM Mike Smith about this story. In his prior correspondence with me, PGM Pearson made it clear that he is a strict by-the-book Mason. He took the position back in 2016 that a grand master need not explain or even report when a Mason is expelled, except to alert the fraternity not to converse Masonically with members under such a sentence. Further, he quite rightly stated that an expulsion isn't authoritative until the assembled Grand Lodge votes to accept the GM's actions or strike them down, which is quite true. South Carolina's Grand lodge members still need to affirm or reject this. 

With that in mind, the GL of South Carolina's annual communication is scheduled for this April. But because the COVID pandemic is still continuing apace, one can't help but wonder whether that meeting will even take place. And unless the GM changes his mind about virtual meetings, there's no chance it will be conducted by video. At best, they may simply attempt to assemble no more than a quorum to conduct their business, as some other jurisdictions have done.. 

The GL of South Carolina has a reputation of attempting to hide from technology. Any Masonic lodge's website must receive written approval from the Grand Lodge, which is why there are so few of them. Lodges may not have a Facebook page or any other social media page. And all digital interaction about Freemasonry is forbidden. Perhaps that worked well for them until 2020. But with the COVID pandemic shutdowns and the ongoing shuttering of all lodges since last spring, forbidding any and all in-person AND online interaction among their brethren has made for a pretty barren fraternal experience.  I have been told that several SC lodges that have relied on fund raising events in past years have gone broke and been forced to close permanently. One idly wonders how many South Carolina Masons will reconsider their membership in the face of a jurisdiction that leaves them no avenue for fraternal socializing of any kind.

South Carolina has a past history of cuffing around appendant bodies, such as when PGM Pearson cut off the Shrine (and then advised Arkansas as to how to do the same thing). Mike Smith's informal Scottish Rite gathering was not the only appendant group to fall under the stern gaze of their Grand Master this season. Last month, the Grand Council of the Allied Masonic Degrees announced the registration for an online Zoom meeting for AMD members. South Carolina's current Grand Secretary, Gerald L Carver, PGM fired off a demand that the AMD issue letters reiterating that South Carolina Masons were forbidden from engaging in any such online meetings of any kind, and to report their compliance and delivery of said letters to him.

About six years ago, I spoke at the Conference of Grand Masters, and I implored that august assembly of grand line officers to consider that suspension or expulsion should not be the first arrow out of their quivers, but the last. The obligations Masonic officers take as they progress over time do not ever eradicate the ones we take in our very first three degrees. We are not merely asked to "whisper good counsel in the ear of a brother, and in the most tender manner remind him of his faults, and aid in his reformation." It is one of our most fundamental duties. We are all Brothers before we are lawyers. It is noteworthy to point out that neither renowned book on Masonic jurisprudence by Albert Mackey and Roscoe Pound contains the phrase from the most commonly used Fellow Craft ritual, "In the decision of every trespass against our rules, you are to judge with candor, admonish with friendship, and reprehend with justice."

One cannot help but ask if anyone whispered in Mike Smith's ear or admonished him with friendship before seeking the ultimate penalty against him, especially in one of the most heartbreaking and challenging years in history.