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“…Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son
of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son…”

Gen. 21:10

It is said that neither a slave, nor one born in slavery can be admitted into the rites and privileges of Freemasonry. That is so in the first instance, because no one legally bound to another can voluntarily assume the covenants of the Craft. In the case of the second instance, it must be assumed that any person born in a servile state, even though he may afterwards become free, inherits a degradation of mind and enthrallment of spirit which disqualify him from performing the duties of a Mason with “freedom, fervency and zeal.” Thus, every candidate for Masonic degrees is first introduced to the lodge as a freeborn man.

As true as the foregoing may be, it does not go far enough in interpreting what Freemasonry intends being freeborn to symbolize. It is equally important to also understand how this relates to Masonry’s attitude toward despotism and mankind’s ceaseless pursuit of freedom. Within the teachings of the Craft we learn that life is a law of Nature and that he who imposes his own selfish desires upon another man’s natural born spirit of freedom is a criminal against the laws of Nature. To succumb to the infiltrations of the immense “me” of the despot is tantamount to sacrificing freedom on the altar of materialism. If a man does not resist those infiltrations, he is doomed to be absorbed by them making the world less free than it was before.

Against what threats to freedom does a Mason stand? And, how does a Mason manifest his resistance to such threats? War and rebellion are far from the thoughts of a true Freemason. Peace, harmony and good will toward all mankind are his motto. He is obliged by his vows to pay due obedience to the laws under which he lives.

When the United States of America was on the brink of civil war in the late 1850’s, Grand Masters from many states spoke about the need for all man to take a deep breath and find a way to avoid bloodshed. Not one openly promoted the commencement of hostilities – whether his constituents resided in the North, or in the South. Yet, once war began, Masons on both side of the great divide fought and died in battle after battle.

Freemasons are united in eternal hostility to tyranny and despotic power. Those evils are not solely found among history’s legendary tyrants, such as Hitler, Stalin and the beasts of today who slaughter their own kinsmen for the purpose of consolidating and perpetuating political power. Rather, they are found everywhere men act to reduce the life of the many for the profit of one. Tyranny and despotism has been found to reside in churches, as well as in castles. Wherever life is extinguished, compressed, stifled, corrupted, or diminished to suit the will of one over many tyranny and despotism reign. It is these that weaken the soul of humanity and shackle the will of every free person. It is these that Freemasonry abhors and resists. That resistance is personified by the inculcation of universal benevolence, tolerance and love of all mankind.

Where darkness reigns in the heart of men that is where the light of Freemasonry must shine brightest. We are reminded of the parable in our Holy Writings which teaches us that a shining lamp must not be placed where it cannot be seen. The unwarranted taking of human life is not mitigated by taking lives either in revenge, or in a misguided effort that it is so necessary to defeat our enemies. Freemasonry does not teach “an eye for an eye,” but love in place of hatred; peace instead of war; and tolerance as opposed to domination. It is that lamp which must be kept in the open for all to see.

Yet, in a peaceful manner Freemasons have for centuries vowed to resist arbitrary power and rule. That is not a call to war any more that Mahatma Gandhi called his people to war against the colonialists in India. Rather, it is a vow to use the means available to peaceably effect change; to personally remain the absolute master of one’s voice, vote and opinion; and never to allow another to dictate in matters of conscience.

Perhaps the greatest threat against man’s freedom comes not from monarchs, dictators, or evil minded rulers, but from the generally well-intended people who permit themselves the unseemly luxury of besmirching another person’s good name. In legal circles, such conduct is called libel or slander. Around the water cooler of many workplaces it is simply called gossip. On prime time television, it is often referred to as good journalism.

An idle tongue wags caring not that the story about the man in the corner is only half true. Suddenly another human being is imprisoned by the disapproval of many and may not easily free himself even if he successfully proves the story false. Too many will say, “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” and the damage will therefore be irremediable. However, a Freemason assumes vows obligating him to protect a brother Mason’s good name – a vow that is much more meaningful in this age of instant communication than ever before. A breach of fidelity here could leave a mark on another brother that may never be erased. It matters not that the breach actually involves a truthful statement about another brother’s failings or flaws. That is not the test in Freemasonry, for those in the Craft know that there is more than enough misery to be spread amongst all of God’s people. A breach of the vow occurs wherever there might be a chance that another brother, his family or friends will be held in low regard on account of something said by another brother. The reason is simple: such a breach involves the potential compromise of another brother’s freedom.

Thus, to be free born means something more than being born free, or never having worn the chains of slavery. All men are by Nature intended to be free and it is this truth to which the phrase free born pertains. Men have made slaves of other men, but God has never done so. Men have created prisons to house offenders – not so with God. If it is true that man is placed here on earth to learn that which God desires of him, then man must also learn how to keep all men free. We do not speak here of opening the doors for dangerous criminals to roam and victimize society. But, we do admonish society to set aside its frustration and work ceaselessly to understand why man offends others unlawfully and how best to peaceably effect a change in behavior. Such will not occur instantaneously, or even in a generation. The stain of poverty, violence and fear is difficult, indeed, to remove and may require several lifetimes of several generations. But, regardless of the difficulty, this must be a fundamental objective of every Mason – to labor against all that threatens to enslave mankind.