Masons' ceremony delayed

Complaint accuses Freemasons of being in a cult

The Visalia Times-Delta, California/September 30, 2006
By Natalie Garcia

For years, the Visalia Mineral King Freemasons have dedicated cornerstones to local schools without objection or controversy — until now.

Last week, the Masons were scheduled to dedicate a cornerstone on Friday morning to Cottonwood Creek Elementary in Visalia. But the night before the group was informed that the Visalia Unified School District was postponing the ceremony.

The reason for ceremony's postponement was an e-mail sent by a concerned citizen to the district, Superintendent Stan Carrizosa said. The e-mail's sender, who the district would not identify, said among other things, that the Masons were a cult.

The e-mail, which included references to [anti-Freemason] Web site as the source of that claim, also said: "My primary concern is that this ritual Friday will give Satan grounds to oppress or harass the administration, teachers and the students — even if ever so subtly."

The e-mail went on to ask the district to have "mercy on the administration and children of Cottonwood Creek and cancel the ritual or at least postpone it until you are clear in your mind, after due diligence and study, that the ritual is just a dedication or indeed is an avenue of evil to exploit."

Carrizosa said up until last week, the ceremony had never raised concerns.

"It seemed sensitive enough to pay attention to," Carrizosa said.

Carrizosa said that one difference that might have made this ceremony more contentious than the others is that it was scheduled to take place during school hours, instead of in the early evening, as they have in past years.

Carrizosa and district area administrator Myron Sheklian met with Senior Grand Warren of the lodge Richard Hopper the night they decided to postpone the dedication.

Hopper said that the Masons are not a cult, but a fraternal organization with a prestigious history of service and a list of past members including George Washington, Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin, among others.

Jim Qualls, a member of the VUSD Board of Trustees, has been a member of the Masonic Lodge for 14 years.

"It's unfortunate out there that folks have a misunderstanding," Qualls, who is also Christian, said. "It's not a religious organization and it's not a substitute for religion."

Qualls added that he felt Carrizosa did the right thing by postponing the ceremony until the district could address the concern.

He also stressed the good work that the Masons do for schools.

"The Masonic Lodge is one of the biggest fundraisers for the public schools," Qualls said. "It's a wonderful group of people and I would never belong to a group or organization that went against my principals and morals."

Hopper also said the author of the e-mail to Carrizosa was misinformed and he is willing to address any concerns about the Masons.

"The individual has only looked at one side and not necessarily the accurate side," Hopper said.

The Masonic orders began as guilds of stonemasons in the Middle Ages and evolved into honorary societies known as Freemasonry that adopted the rites of ancient religions.

In the U.S., political activity of Freemasons in the 19th century led to the rise of the Anti-Masonic movement. It condemned Freemasonry as a secret, undemocratic society. Opposition to Freemasonry grew in the Roman Catholic Church, and the Masons and Anti-Masons began to divide along Protestant and Catholic lines.

Despite a past containing ties to religious controversy, Hopper said that the past has no baring over the Masons' operations or beliefs now and that men of all faiths are welcomes to join.

Discussions of religion and politics are forbidden in the lodge, he said.

"It has a tendency to create disharmony," Hopper said.

Carrizosa said that he never saw any religious aspects in the past cornerstone dedications, but still decided to push the ceremony back just to be careful.

"We are always in the position that public schools are a common ground," Carrizosa said. "We just don't want to put our school students and school staff in the center of a controversy."

Lonnie Martell, a Visalia Mason and past Senior Grand Warren of the lodge, felt the district turned its back on an organization that has supported Visalia schools for years.

"I feel betrayed for what we have done for the schools in the past," Martell said. "They got one letter and that was it."

Last year, for example, the Masons gave eight $500 scholarships to new high school graduates, and next year plans to add two more scholarships.

After considering the concern, Carrizosa said the district plans to reschedule the dedication to take place in the evening, sometime this month so students and parents who choose not to participate won't have to.

Hopper said he was satisfied with the outcome and was never worried the attention would harm the Masons.

"Our reputation won't be tarnished," he said. "Our relationship with community is too strong — this community was built by men who were strong in the Masonic Lodge."

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