Free Will and Accord: Proper: Improper

by Harold J. Littleton, MPS

The  petition which every one of us signed when we applied for admission into Freemasonry contained the phrase “uninfluenced by   improper   solicitation   of  friends.”   It   doesn’t   say “uninfluenced  by  the  solicitation  of  friends”,  but  by  the “improper  solicitation”; does the word “improper” then  suggest that there is a “proper” solicitation?

In discussing solicitation the terms  Free Will and Accord  - Proper Solicitation - Improper Solicitation  should be  considered as  a  spectrum from white as Free will and accord  to  black  as improper  solicitation  with proper solicitation as gray  -  many shades of gray.

How  did  the  subject  of  solicitation  get  so  much  bad publicity  or  why was discussion on this  subject  relegated  to small  talk,  almost  in  superstitious  terms?  Solicitation  is nowhere mentioned in our Delaware Grand Lodge code.  Furthermore, I’ve  never heard of a Mason being reprimanded  for  solicitation although  there have been suspicions raised about the  number  of petitions signed by one or two aggressive brothers.

Strict  interpretation  of the doctrine of  “free  will  and accord” is fully defensible and would be in very strict agreement with Mackey who says, “This is a peculiar feature of the  Masonic Institution that must commend it to the respect of every generous mind.  In other associations, it is considered meritorious  in  a member  to  exert  his influence in  obtaining  applications  for admission,  but it is wholly uncongenial with the spirit  of  our Order  to persuade anyone to become a Freemason.” Mackey goes  on to say that this unwritten law is sometimes violate “by young and heedless  Brethren.” He ascribes their motives to the  desire  to imitate  “modern  fraternal  orders” which  resemble  Masonry  in nothing  except  some  ritualistic  secrets.  “It  is  wholly  in opposition  to  all  our laws and principles to ask  any  man  to become a Freemason...We must not seek - we must be sought.”

Strict  interpretation  of “free will and accord”  may  have delayed  admission  of good men to our lodges and the  craft  may thereby have lost many years of productive output. As PGM Steeves of  New Brunswick said at the Conference of Grand Masters  a  few years  ago,  “It is not reasonable to assume that  any  ambitious young man would request membership in a fraternity about which he knows  very little, that is not visible in the  community,  whose achievements  and accomplishments are unknown, and which  he  has not been invited to participate in or join. Nor is it  reasonable or  logical  to assume that any man would or even  could  have  a preconceived opinion of our order, favorable or otherwise. It  is constantly hidden from his view.”

Turning  now to solicitation, let’s see how Webster  defines it.  Solicit  means (1) to make petition or to  entreat,  (2)  to approach  with  a request or plea, (3) to strongly urge,  (4)  to entice or lure, (5) to try to obtain  by asking.

With these definitions in mind, let’s review how some  other Grand  Lodges  are  approaching this  subject  and  review  their activities  in this area. This review is neither to judge nor  to criticize but merely to report.

In  1981 in England a policy statement was  developed  which says “There is no objection to a neutrally worded approach  being made  to  a  man  who  is  conceived  a  suitable  candidate  for Freemasonry. There can be no objection to his being reminded once that  approach  is made. The potential candidate should  then  be left  to  make his own decision  without  further  solicitation.” There  are some key words in this statement,  namely,  “neutrally worded   approach,”   “reminded  once”,  and   “without   further solicitation.”

In  1982  the Grand Master of Louisiana issued an  edict  as follows,  “There is no objection to a neutrally  worded  approach being made to a man who is considered to be a suitable  candidate for Freemasonry. After the procedure for obtaining membership  in a  Masonic Lodge is explained, the potential candidate should  be left to make his own decision and come of his own free will.”  In 1985 the Grand Master of Ohio issued a similar edict followed  in 1987  by  the  Grand Master of Delaware. Others  have  also  been issued.

The  Grand  Lodge of Oklahoma code says that  it  “prohibits solicitation of membership from profanes (non-Masons). It is  not the  intent of (the code) to force the qualified profane  to  beg for  permission to join our ranks. According to Webster the  word solicit  means to “beg or urge with troublesome persistence.”  In light  of this it is certainly not a Masonic offense to,  quietly and without pressure, offer him information and assistance if  he is  interested. If we do less than this we are denying access  to the  Fraternity to the majority of good men who have an  interest in and a high regard for Masonry but no idea of what it takes  to become  a Mason. It is just as ridiculous to expect a man to  beg for  a  petition  as it is for us to beg him to  join.  It  is  a violation  of  Masonic  law  to ‘beg  or  urge  with  troublesome persistence’ a good man to become a Mason. It is not unlawful  to offer  advice and assistance. It is permissible to inform a  good man,  ‘Do  you  know that you will never  be  requested  to  join Masonry?’   Again  the  key  words  are  “beg  with   troublesome persistence”,  and  “it  is  not unlawful  to  offer  advice  and assistance.”

In  1984  the  Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania  embarked  on  an elaborate   program  to  revitalize  Masonry  and   to   increase membership  with  the  title “Solomon II ®  The  Rebuilding  of Freemasonry.” Its specific objective was “to reverse the  decline in membership and rebuild the fraternity to a minimum of  250,000 members  in  the next four years.” One of the  premises  of  this program  stated that “every Master Mason has friends,  relatives, acquaintances,  church  members, fellow workers  and  others  who would   be  valuable  assets  to  the  Masonic  fraternity.”   In announcing  this  program  it  was said that  “the  task  can  be accomplished and the goal reached without violating any  dictates of   Masonic  law  while  preserving  the  right   standards   of qualification  for membership.” Our part of this program was  the use of an educational brochure which all Pennsylvania Masons  are encouraged  to  carry  and  five  to  acquaintances.  The first paragraph  of this brochure says, “you may be surprised  to  know that  the friend who asked you to read this literature will not ask  you  to  petition the  Masonic  Fraternity  for  membership.  Contrary  to popular belief membership in Freemasonry is  not  by invitation.  Instead, if you seek membership, you must do  so  on your  own initiative by making your wishes known to a  member  of the  fraternity.”  This brochure then proceeds to give  much  the same information as in the Delaware publication, “Freemasonry - A Way  Of  Life”.  It then concludes with  this  information,  “Your friend is a Master Mason and is proud of the Masonic  Fraternity.  He  is also very proud of the fine character of its members.  He sincerely believes that you possess the qualities for  membership in  the  Fraternity  and  that you should,  at  least,  have  the opportunity  to  know more about it. By taking a few  minutes  to read   this  literature,  you  will  be  better  informed   about Freemasonry.  You  will  also  understand  that  those  who  seek membership must do so of their own accord. Unfortunately, without this  understanding, many fine individuals have not  enjoyed  the special  rewards of membership in Freemasonry. If, after  reading this  material,  you have any questions or desire  to  know  more about  Freemasonry,  your friend will be pleased to  answer  your questions  or to obtain the answers for you. Whether or  not  you should decide to inquire about membership in Freemasonry you  can be  certain  that you have a special friend  within  the  Masonic fraternity  who  thinks very highly of you. Please  consider  the fact  that  he  shard this literature with you as  a  message  of kindness  from   friend  to  friend !’ This Solomon II  program  puts much  emphasis on increasing membership  numbers  and  recognizes first   line   signers  of  subordinate  lodge   petitions   with recognition  pins for one new member, two new members, etc.  Some Masons  have  expressed concern that when public  recognition  is given  to obtaining new members, the idea of proper vs.  improper solicitation  gets very dark gray! Several  other  jurisdictions, including  Maryland,  Maine and the District  of  Columbia,  have approved use of variations of the Solomon II program.

The  Foundation Builders Program is in use in Illinois  with information  similar  to that used in Pennsylvania,  but  with  a different design of pin being given for new members.

There is another program being used in many New England  and some  mid-western  states which involves “friendship  nights”  or “membership  nights”  at which time Masons invite  non-Masons  to attend  a  dinner  meeting  and  have  presentations   afterwards discussing  many  facets  of  Masonry.  Visitors  are  not  asked directly  to  petition  the  lodge, but  are  encouraged  to  ask questions.  Some  jurisdictions, including Indiana,  have  banned this  type  of meeting. If these meetings  are  for  information, fine; if for solicitation, some Masons have a problem.

Not all publicity is favorable inclined toward relaxing  the rules  on  solicitation.  For example, PGM  Dwight L. Smith  of Indiana says, “Anyone who thinks a program of invitation could be controlled, discreet, dignified, so that only men of high caliber would be invited, is living in a fool’s paradise. What reason  do we  have for thinking that our membership at large,  representing all  walks of life and all strata of society, would  confine  its efforts to the cream of the community.”

Brother Brent Morris of Maryland made a statistical study of Freemasonry vs. the Odd Fellows - two organizations with  similar objectives and organizational structures. The Odd Fellows  permit solicitation;  Freemasonry does not. In 1900 the Odd Fellows  had 870,000  members while Freemasonry had 839,000 members.  In  1915 both organizations had about 1,500,000 members, but in the  early 1920’s membership in the Odd Fellows started to drop and in  1986 they  had only about 160,000 members while Freemasonry  continued to grow to over 4 million, down today to about 3,000,000. Brother Morris  cites this example to show that solicitation per se  does not necessarily lead to long term membership increases.

The  Grand Master of Missouri in 1983 says, “Some  say  that solicitation  is  the answer. This may be true, but it  has  very definitely  not worked for the Odd Fellows and similar  fraternal groups. Our law is very explicit on solicitation. It is a Masonic offense.  My  own  feeling  is  that  the  best  result  for  our Fraternity will be attained if it becomes generally known that we do  not  solicit, and that one must seek our  portals  through  a friend who is a member.”

Similarly  the code of Iowa was amended in 1984 to  read  as follows,  “It is un-Masonic to improperly urge profanes to  become members, but whether or not such action is a triable offense is a question for the lodge, depending upon the facts of each case.”

Turning  now to my own jurisdiction, Delaware,  members  are solicited  in many ways, none of which has ever been  challenged.  For  this  reason, it must be assumed that they are in  the  gray area of proper solicitation.

First, we display proudly on our lapels the Masonic  emblem, as  well  as  on  our car insignia, caps  and  jackets,  etc.  We advertise  that we are Masons and are proud of it. These  outward symbols are question marks for the uninitiated and can be used to encourage questions about membership. One nearby state advertises by using the square and compasses on auto license plates. Another state  forbids the use of the Masonic emblem on car  insignia  or even on caps and the Grand Master commented in a directive to all the lodges “that this sort of thing is an ostentatious innovation that will not be countenanced in this Grand Jurisdiction.”

Second, Masonic ceremonies are held with the public  invited open installations, cornerstone layings, funerals, etc.  These events   are  not  solicitation  affairs,  but  they  all   offer opportunities  for non-Masons to witness Masonic  ceremonies  and become  acquainted  with Freemasonry. On these  occasions,  talks have been given on “What Masons Can Tell Non-Masons.” Most ladies nights  are  open  to  our  non-Masonic  friends  who  might   be encouraged  to ask questions and see the type of individuals  who are Masons.


Third, Masonic buildings are frequently open to the  public.  Are  the  libraries and displays of Masonic  memorabilia  at  818 Market Street, in our lodges, in the museum at Lombardy Hall,  at the  Scottish Rite Cathedral ways of soliciting  questions  about the  fraternity?  Doesn’t the historical value of some  of  these items arouse questions which can lead to a broader discussion  of Masonry and ultimately of membership?

Fourth,  isn’t  participation in our youth  organizations  a form of solicitation? Masons have a golden opportunity to  create interest  in Masonry in our youth so that they will be  favorably inclined  to  participate when of a lawful age. Comments  on  how their organizations are related to the Masonic Fraternity can  be considered a light gray form of solicitation. Comments that  good ritual  work  in these organizations is a  good  preparation  for later   Masonic  activity  might  be  construed  as  a  form   of solicitation.  Likewise,  some  non-Masonic  fathers  of  DeMolay members may ask questions leading to Masonic membership.

Fifth, our educational booklets,  Freemasonry - A Way Of Life  and   Should  I  Ask? , for many years  have  been  made  available throughout the state. Derogatory comments have not been expressed about  the information presented in these booklets  although  the obvious  reason  for  their existence is to  inform  and  thereby indirectly to solicit members.

Sixth, one-on-one conversation is probably the most frequent method of solicitation and here the gray area can be very  broad.  A  father  may say to his son, “If you ever decide  to  become  a Mason,  I’ll  be  proud  to  sign  your  petition.”  A   business acquaintance or friend may be told in casual conversation that he will never be asked to become a Mason. A friend may indicate that some  member of his family was an active Mason which can lead  to the  follow up comment, “It’s a wonder you never joined.” Or  the individual  may be asked if he is a member and if he  says  “no”, the  questioner  may  shake  his head and  turn  aside  with  the comment, “Too bad!”

A  darker  shade  of  gray may be the  classic  story  of  a grandfather’s discussion with the grandson on his 21st  birthday.  He  said, “Son, now that you’re 21, whose lodge are you going  to join - your father’s or mine?”

One of the most highly respected senior Masons in our  state has  on  rare occasions been known to hand a petition to  a  life long friend, who he knew in his heart would be a good Mason,  and was  well thought of in the community with the comment,  “If  you ever  decide  to join, I’ll be happy to sign your  petition.”  Is that proper or improper solicitation?

The  final  kind  of solicitation may  be  by  the  indirect method.  Mothers  may  be responsible  for  encouraging  sons  to petition  lodges  for  membership.  Secretaries  typing   Masonic letters or trestleboards may influence non-Masons. One  secretary commented  that she would like to see her husband become a  Mason because  his grandfather had been active. Soon afterwards a  copy of   Freemasonry  -  A  Way  Of Life   reached  his  hands  and  he petitioned a local lodge. Another indirect petition resulted from an  individual’s  interest  in  the  activities  of  one  of  the appendant  bodies. While taking his blue lodge degrees he  became so interested that he became a most proficient officer and  later served  on the Grand Staff. Undoubtedly there are numerous  other examples of indirect solicitation which you could cite.


     A  clear  definition  of  Improper Solicitation   is  hard  to define  except by implication that it is improper to push  or  to promise.  It  is improper solicitation to use  a  repeated,  high pressure  sales  approach, at one time associated  with  carnival barkers.  Asking  once is permissible as defined  in  many  Grand Lodge  edicts  and  programs.  It  is  improper  to  promise  the candidate  that he will receive material benefit or some  special recognition if he joins. A few Masons might regard it as improper solicitation  when the sponsor is materially rewarded  or  overly recognized for soliciting. Improper solicitation would be  giving a  petition  to a person of casual acquaintance or  of  uncertain background.  Candidates who are improperly solicited seldom  will be of long term benefit to the craft.

Having  reviewed  what some  jurisdictions  consider  proper solicitation and what to me are the ways we in Delaware  solicit, it  appears  that Delaware is about in the middle of  the  proper solicitation spectrum - not being as strict as some jurisdictions and  not as liberal as others. Therefore, my first conclusion  is that  we should continue and perhaps relax our forms of  “proper” solicitation.  My  second conclusion is that we should  not  only feel  free to discuss Masonry with the uninitiated but we  should be knowledgeable enough to be comfortable in doing so.  Knowledge brings  confidence  and confidence comes from  individual  study, from  personal  discussions, from attendance at  workshops,  from meaningful  educational  lodge programs, from  observations  made while attending other lodges and appendant bodies.

Free Will and Accord -

Proper Solicitation -

Improper Solicitation:

White - Gray - Black

Individual Masons determine their shade of gray depending on their  individual background and as permitted by custom in  their jurisdiction.







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