It has a different connotation in different situations. Someone has written that Freemasonry is honesty in business; that it is fairness in work; courtesy in society; compassion for the sick and unfortunate; forgiveness for the penitent; love for our fellowman and reverence for God.
Freemasonry means many things to many people. This is true of the person who is not a Mason, and applies as well to Masons themselves. Some of those who have been members of the Masonic Craft for many years are afraid to mention even the things which almost everyone knows about the fraternity. Others amongst us are convinced that Freemasonry is a secret society and they, as members, are forbidden to talk about it to others whom they do not know to be Masons. Most of this is far from the truth and a word of explanation concerning this Fraternal organization may not be amiss.
Freemasonry came to America about the third decade of the Eighteenth Century when Lodges were established in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. American Freemasons can take pride in the part which the members of this Fraternity played in the history of our country.
Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons and the same statement is true of those who signed the Constitution of the United States. Famous men such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, the Marquis de Lafayette, James Monroe and many others whose names awaken memories of the founding of our country. Since our country's beginning thirteen of its President's have been Masons.
Masons have also won laurels in other fields of endeavor, and we find them prominent in government, in science, in sports, in entertainment, and finally in man's newest field, that of space exploration, with John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, Virgil Grissom and the second man to set foot on the moon -- "Buzz" Aldrin, all bound by the mystic tie of Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is the oldest, and by far, the largest fraternal order in the world. Its Lodges stretch around the globe and, like the British Empire, it might well be said that the sun never sets upon the Masonic Lodge. Fraternity means an association of brothers, and that is exactly what Freemasonry is -- a society of friends and brothers. It is not a benefit society in the sense that one becomes a member because of the insurance benefits which he may receive or which may inure to his family at his death. It is not an institution founded to collect and disburse charity, or founded on the giving of alms.
It is not a secret society, in that its Temples are openly marked, and almost everyone in the community knows where they are located. The Grand Lodge publishes a list of the members of every Lodge in Texas. Many of the Lodges have individual bulletins which carry the names of the officers and also of members. Thus it is, in the strictest sense of the word, a society with secrets; and these limited to its vows and obligations, its modes of recognition, such as pass-words and handshakes, and certain parts of its ritual.
It is religious in character, but it is not a religion. It is founded upon the basic principle of the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, and everyone who comes into its Lodges must express a belief in God. No one is asked to express a particular belief about God, for this is the privilege of each individual and is not infringed by our Fraternity.
No one is excluded because of his membership in a particular church. There are, however, a few denominations which do not allow their members to become Masons. In some instances there is a mistaken impression that Freemasonry refuses admission to those who are members of certain denominations. This is inaccurate - it is the church, rather than Freemasonry, that denies them membership.