Foreign Language Lodges in Law
In Masonic principle and in the Landmarks there is nothing to forbid a Lodge from working in any language of its choice Lodges under England, Ireland, Scotland, and almost every American Grand Lodge have done so; but there are circumstances, as in time of war, when the question of the language used is raised because it i8 the language of an enemy people and when it is thus raised it may be carried to court because it may involve a Charter, and a Charter involves property. The classical case in America was that of Schiller Lodge, No. 66, of Newark, N. J. During World War I the Grand Lodge of New Jersey ordered discontinuance of German; Schiller Lodge conformed for a period, then in 19191 and on its own authority, resumed the use of German, whereupon the Grand Lodge revoked its Charter and took possession of its assets valued at $8,000. The Lodge sued; the case was carried to the New Jersey Court of Appeals and Errors, and the Grand Lodge was there sustained. A number of fundamentals in both Masonic and Civil law were recognized, or defined, or employed in the case, among them being:
1. There was a provision in Sehiller's Charter to permit its use of German. A Charter is an official recognition of a Lodge's sovereignty, but that sovereignty is limited; a Grand Lodge can for cause suspend or revoke a Charter; therefore no Charter of itself stands in absolute perpetuity, nor is inalterable, nor releases a Lodge from the superior authority of Grand Lodge.
2. When a Grand Lodge takes due and regular action in governance of Lodges the mandate is one that every Lodge is to obey. Schiller Lodge disobeyed, and for that reason its Charter was revoked, and on that ground the Grand Lodge defended itself in Court; the Lodge raised the general question of language, prejudice, etc., but this was declared irrelevant by the Court.
3. Since the question of language is not covered by any Landmark (except negatively) a Grand Lodge is free to permit, to refuse, and to reverse itself at will if circumstances ordain, or if circumstances change.
4. The Landmark of Peace and Harmony can be invoked on the question of language. If a single Lodge holds out against each and every sister Lodge it, not they, has destroyed Peace and Harmony. The question of the language to be used in Schiller Lodge was decided at the moment of Grand Lodge action; it was not in the power of the Lodge to rescind an action by Grand Lodge, as it itself knew; when therefore it became recalcitrant it disturbed Peace and Harmony.
5. Peace and Harmony is maintained in Freemasonry not by compromise, evasion, indifference, or appeasement but by the even and uncompromising enforcement of the laws, regulations, and rules; when a Grand Lodge revokes the Charter of a recalcitrant Lodge it is not itself destroying Peace and Harmony but is acting to preserve it.
6. In a dissenting opinion Justice F. Minturn took the ground that Schiller's members were Germans, therefore a minority, and he appealed to the right of minorities. The Court held that its members were American citizens, not a minority, and that there can be no "minorities" in Masonry.
7. The dissenting Justice also argued that the property of Schiller belonged to its members; the Court ruled that the members own and use it conditionally; and by the terms on which a Lodge exists its property reverts to Grand Lodge if its Charter is revoked.
8. Students of Masonic jurisprudence find in the Schiller Lodge case a profoundly interesting set of subjects and questions. The most interesting subject is the coincidence at many points of Masonic law and civil law, and the fact that any Masonic law or mill may be a law or a datum in a civil Court; the most interesting question lies in the fact that in this as in almost every other case both the Court and the attorneys were troubled because the Craft has never adopted an official definition of Freemasonry.
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