In 1998 Jack Straw, as Home Secretary, introduced a requirement that all judges and magistrates would have to declare if they were a Freemanson or not. Now, as Justice Secretary, he has been forced to scrap the requirement in the face of an EU legal ruling made in 2007 in favour of Italian Masons. That to be forced to declare their membership openly, broke their rights to free association.
As no link could be shown between Freemasonry and ‘impropriety or malpractice’ it was thought to be ‘disproportionate’ to keep the requirement in place.
When the measure was introduced back in 1998 it caused furious debate, which led to similar proposals for police officers being dropped.
At the time the subject of membership of Freemason lodges was high profile and the military bannedÂ meeting on military property and personnel were forbidden to encourage others to join. This push was led by a Labour MP Chris Mullin who chaired the Commons Cross Party Home Affairs Committee at the time.
When people in senior positions with direct influence over our lives can secretly belong to an organisation about which the rest of us have little or no knowledge we have a right to be suspicious. In an era when belonging to a legal political party (BNP) can lead to your dismissal, should we allow an organisation that does not allow general female membership to bypass scrutiny? From the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) website:
“Freemasonry, following the example of medieval stonemasons, has always been restricted to men. Women who wish to become members have two separate Grand Lodges restricted to women.”
To its credit the UGLE has put up a website which tries to explain and put fears at rest. For example there is a general belief that Masons must favour each other over non Masons, which the UGLE are at pains to state unequivocally as untrue. But I admit to still feel uneasy when a society declares itself “a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values.” But effectively has a secret membership where those concerned are in a position to impose those values without democratic authority.