Sunday, June 29, 2008
Alcohol and the Lodge: Do They Mix?
Club Milton, a small bar that is run by Pioneer Lodge #1, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Minnesota, has recently been closed down after a fatal shooting. The shooting was not the only violent crime that has occurred at the bar; in 2005, a man was in a fight while in the bar, went outside where he was shot and killed. In 2006, a man was discovered in a burning car but it was determined that he had been killed elsewhere. Club Milton is licensed as a private social club that is run by Pioneer Lodge. Currently, the City of St. Paul is holding hearings concerning these crimes.
Before I continue, I have to admit that the neighborhood that surrounds the club is not the safest as I have seen in my own experience, which makes this story an extreme example of this issue. However, I think this story does raise an interesting point, should Lodges be in the business of serving alcohol or more broadly, does alcohol have a place in the Lodge? My opinion is that liquor and Masonry can mix in moderation. The history of alcohol and Freemasonry can be seen from the early beginnings as coexisting peacefully. When the United Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717, it was formed at Goose and Gridiron Ale House. The early Lodges met in taverns including those Lodges that ultimately formed the UGLE.
American Lodges continued the tradition of meeting in taverns including the first lodge in the new world in Boston meeting at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern. Many Lodges participated in table lodges or festive boards (and many still continue the practice, including my Lodge) which involve many toasts.
However, the American way of life changed as a new wave of immigration hit the shores. Many reformers began to view alcohol as an evil that contributed to the problems in society. The Temperance Movement began around the 1840’s to limit the amount of alcohol that people could consume. Later, the state of Maine created a ban on all liquor and was joined by other “dry” states. The Movement caused a ground swell and many fraternal organizations, including many state Grand Lodges, began to outlaw those who could join including saloon owners. The movement came to a head when the 18th Amendment was ratified to the Constitution which prohibited, “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States … for beverage
After a decade of bootlegging and the rest, the 21st Amendment was ratified which essential repealed the 18th Amendment although states were still given the right to restrict the transportation of liquor if they chose. (The case of Granholm v. Heald has effectively restricted states from granting in-state direct shipments of liquor preference over out-state direct shipments through the prohibition of out-state direct sales though states may still restrict all direct shipments of alcohol.) In the United States, there still exist many dry counties and municipalities, including 46 completely dry counties in Texas.
There are also modern examples of the Temperance including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and International Organisation of Good Templars. Alcohol is still highly regulated and modern state statutes define a DWI, DUI, etc. at .08 BAL through the efforts of MADD.
It appears to me that Freemasonry clings to many of the old adages found in the Temperance Movement. I took a look at Paul Bessel’s great website for all things Masonic and found that in his survey of Grand Lodges that as of 2007, at least three Grand Lodges prohibit the conferring of degrees to bar owners. Many Grand Lodges, including my own, consider drunkenness a matter of unmasonic behavior with the possibility of reprimand. (This provision I agree with as intoxication is a problem) Many Grand Lodges also exclude alcohol from being served within the Lodge or by the Lodge, e.g. Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, etc., or Lodge Room, e.g. California, DC, etc.
I believe that there is nothing wrong with alcohol being served by Lodges, as long as the conduct does not lead to excessive drunkenness. We are not the Eagles or the Elks but seek a higher moral order but we must remember our past, a past that included meeting in taverns. As the outside of the Temple that housed Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, stated μηδὲν ἄγαν, “nothing in excess” and γνῶθι σεαυτόν, “know thyself”. We must remember both as we determine where alcohol fits in our practice of the Gentle Craft.
I do believe that the Lodge Room themselves should be considered sacred space. Unless there is a ceremonial reason for serving alcohol, I believe that Lodge Rooms are completely off-limits.
The shooting outside of Club Milton is truly tragic but I do not believe that serving alcohol should automatically deemed an unmasonic behavior. It is by the frailty of men in knowing their limits that leads alcohol being a problem.