Unaccepted Masons


Of all the daft ideas promoted by Tony Blair's Labour government in Britain, its recent pursuit of Masons among the police and in the nation's judiciary may be the most bizarre. Labour believes that Masonry may be corrupting justice: It fears that during judicial proceedings, judges, solicitors, and police are exchanging secret signals identifying themselves as lodge members. Because Masons take an oath to help one another, the theory goes, justice is trumped by furtive Brotherhood.

Although Britain's Masons deny that their activities are anything more than charitable fellowship, and although there are no known cases of Masonic judicial corruption, Labour is intent on its purge. It has set up a registry whereby policemen and others may voluntarily (for now) identify their lodge affiliation. That registry was supposed to become public in April. But at the last minute, the government decided to block public access to it.

Why? Ministers suddenly realized they had created an assumption of impropriety. Lord Millett, Britain's most senior Masonic judge, complained that defendants were now demanding to know if the police or judges in their cases were Masons. A government official agreed that "It will not help if police are deterred from being open about their [Masonic] membership because they think it would be raised in trials."

The origin of this strange controversy lies in a pair of sensational "exposé" books published in the 1980s. The Brotherhood (1985), by Stephen Knight, portrayed Britain's Masons as pursuing a common—if never identified—secret agenda. Knight is otherwise best known for Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (1976), which "revealed" the famous Victorian murder spree as—yes—a plot hatched by Masons.

Knight died shortly after The Brotherhood was published (hmm…). The sequel, Inside the Brotherhood (1989), was written by Martin Short. Both books address the judiciary, suggesting that Masons help each other with their careers. Because the authors also run through the 200-year-old charges that Freemasonry may be a religion hostile to Christianity, they suggest that such lodge-related career networking is worrisome. Short's book is heavy on the religious angle, and sometimes reads as if it were written by the determinedly anti-Masonic Pope Leo XIII.

As Short admits, the importance of career networks is not otherwise unknown. In Britain, it takes the form of school, religious, class, and other ties that benefit Labourites as well as Tories. Meanwhile, a government spokesman promises that Blair's government is "not backing away from the need to establish just how widespread Masonic activity is within" the police.