The Guardian is reporting that the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, is reversing a rule requiring serving in the United Kingdom to declare their Masonic affiliation. This reversal comes after the United Grand Lodge of England stated that they might seek review of the rule in light of the ruling in Grande Oriente d'Italia di Palazzo Guistiniani v Italy. That case, in part, created a connection between the right not to be discriminated with the right to freely associate as one chooses which is found in the European Convention of Human Rights (a treaty created in 1950 to address the abuses suffered during World War II.)
The rule requiring the Freemasons to declare their membership began in 1997 on recommendation of the Commons home affair committee. The report stated,
[N]othing so much undermines public confidence in public institutions as the knowledge that some public servants are members of a secret society one of whose aims is mutual self-advancement.This is a very good decision by the Justice Secretary. With the belief that they will defend a brother above all else, many in Britain view the Craft as evil and self-serving. In fact, I recently received an email which disparaged Masonry which arrived via a co.uk address. It still shocks me how distrusted my brothers in the UK are. (Maybe it's that whole meeting on the level thing, or acting uprightly, you know, "evil stuff")
In North America, Freemasons are not disparaged as harshly as our Masonic brothers across the pond. I have rarely received animosity directed towards me because of my Masonic affiliation. Judges in America are held to very high standards, yet, judges, lawyers and other officials make it known that they are Freemasons, not because it is required but because they are proud to be called a Mason.
This reversal is one sign that the human right to associate with whom one wishes has to be recognized. In the United States, we have the First Amendment which defends our right to choose with whom we would like to associate. A free society is not one that dismisses the rights of people to join as a collection of individuals, but celebrates and understands the service that these groups do for their community. Let's hope that this continues to be a trend in Europe and throughout the world.