The question has been mooted whether a Quaker, or other person having peculiar religious scruples in reference to taking oaths, can receive the degrees of Freemasonry by taking an affirmation. Now, as the obligations of Freemasonry are symbolic in their character, and the forms in which they are administered constitute the essence of the symbolism, there cannot be a doubt that the prescribed mode is the only one that ought to be used, and that affirmations are entirely inadmissible.
The London Freemason's Quarterly (1828, page 28G) says that "a Quaker's affirmation is binding." This is not denied. The only question is whether it is admissible. Can the obligations be assumed in any but one way, unless the ritual be entirely changed?
Can any "man or body of men" at this time make such a change without affecting the universality of Freemasonry? Brother Chase (Masonic Digest, page 448) says that "Conferring the degrees on affirmation is no violation of the spirit of Freemasonry, and neither overthrows nor affects a landmark." In this he is sustained by the Grand Lodge of Maine (1823).
On the report of a Committee, concurred in by the Grand Lodge of Washington in 1883 and duly incorporated in the Masonic Code of that State (see the 1913 edition, page130), the following was adopted: "The solemn obligation required from all persons receiving the degrees may be made equally binding by either an oath or an affirmation without any change in the time-honored Landmarks. " A decision of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island on November 13, 1867 (see also the1918 edition of the Constitution, General Regulations, etc., of that State, page 34) was to the effect that "An affirmation can be administered instead of an oath to any person who refuses, on conscientious grounds, to take the latter." But the other Grand Lodges which expressed an opinion on this subject-namely, those of Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Delaware, Virginia, and Pennsylvania made an opposite decision.
During the latest revision of this work the Masonic authorities in each of these States were invited to give the latest practice in their respective Jurisdictions. Their replies are given substantially as below, and in the main the early custom has been continued.
Missouri has not recognized the word affirmation in the work, and unless the candidate is willing to conform to the wording of the obligation the instructions have been to not accept him and this has been the rule of successive Grand Masters in that State.
Tennessee has not made any change in the law, and in 1919 the Grand Lodge held that the Grand Master had no right to allow the Ritual to be changed in order to suit the religious views of a profane. There has been no change in the attitude of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky in the matter of affirmation. That State has required the candidate to take the obligation in the usual manner. Delaware reported that there had been no change in the approved decision adopted by the Grand Lodge in 1890 which is as follows: "An applicant who desires to affirm instead of swear to the obligation cannot be received." The Grand Lodge of Virginia allows the use of an affirmation, not by the written law, but by the decision of a Grand Master of that State.
In Pennsylvania a petitioner becomes a member of the Lodge by initiation and dues begin from that time. He may, if he desires, remain an Entered Apprentice Freemason, a member of the Lodge, or he may resign as such. There is only one way of making an Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, or Master Freemason, in this Jurisdiction, which is by use of the greater lights, without any equivocation, deviation, or substitution.
One decision of Grand Master Africa of Pennsylvania, on October 24, 1892, does not state precisely at what point the candidate for initiation refused to obey, and even the original letter written by Grand Master Africa does not show it.
Presumably the reference was in regard to the candidate's belief in a supreme Being, yet it covers other points as follows:
"After having been duly prepared to receive the First Degree in Freemasonry, a candidate refused to conform with and obey certain landmarks of the craft. This refusal disqualifies him from initiation in any Lodge in this jurisdiction, and you will direct your Secretary to make proper record thereof, and , to make report to the Grand Secretary accordingly.
Freemasonry does not proselyte. Those who desire its privileges must seek them of their own free will, and must accept and obey, without condition or reservation, all of its ancient usages, customs, and landmarks."
The general practice of Lodges in America is also against the use of an affirmation. But in England Quakers have been initiated after affirmation, the principle being that a form of obligation which the candidate accepts as binding will suffice.
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