Posts Tagged ‘line of succession’

Nine Suspended from Sebastian #706 (Jan., 2004)

The brethren mentioned below, who are today serving lengthy suspensions from Masonry, were among the most active and respected Masonic leaders in their area.  All were perpetual members of Sebastian Lodge #706, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and most were members of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, as well as other Masonic organizations.

The trouble started several years back, when one of the brothers from Sebastian Lodge decided to run for Grand Junior Deacon, the first chair in the usual Grand Lodge line of succession.  His opponents in that election included Randy Ross and George R. Franks, Jr., both of whom eventually proceeded through the chairs and served as Grand Master of Masons in Arkansas.

Before the election, a member of the Grand Lodge “inner circle” approached the Sebastian Lodge candidate, and asked him if he’d wait until the following year to run, with the assurance that he’d be “elected” at that time.  The Sebastian Lodge brother reluctantly agreed, but later changed his mind and decided not to submit to coercion, or participate in collusion.

Around 2002, one of the now-suspended brothers was the Worshipful Master of Sebastian Lodge #706, and under his leadership, the lodge raised more Master Masons that year than any other lodge in the state.  As significant as that accomplishment was, however, a greater achievement occurred that year when Sebastian Lodge helped donate a 15-passenger van to a local nonprofit that benefits handicapped children.  The fundraising effort was assisted by other local lodges, as well as brethren of the Scottish Rite, and it enabled Sebastian Lodge to provide $16,000.00 toward the purchase of the $25,000.00 van.  That triumph apparently raised some eyebrows at the Grand Lodge in Little Rock, and a memo soon followed from the Grand Master, saying that all charitable donations from that point forward, would require Grand Lodge approval.

A short time later, Sebastian Lodge was given an opportunity to sell barbecue brisket plates at a Fort Smith cook-off to raise additional money for charity, and help recover part of the cost of the van.  The subject was discussed in lodge, and several brethren volunteered to help in the effort, but the event was never voted on, nor sponsored by the Lodge.  The only contribution from the lodge was the beef brisket.

The cook-off was held on a hot summer day, and the group had borrowed a large smoker, as well as a Jaycee’s vending trailer from which to work.  One of the volunteers was a Jaycee, who had a cooler from a previous Jaycee event held a few days before.  The cooler contained some beer and a larger assortment of soft drinks, and because the event was not lodge-sponsored, some of the brethren saw nothing wrong with drinking a beer.  At no time was any of that consumption in front of the vending trailer, or offered to any person except the cooking team.

James Clark and his family came by with Vidalia onions that he asked be offered for sale on behalf of the Shriners.  Out of friendship and brotherly love, the Sebastian Lodge brothers offered Clark and his family a brisket plate.  Instead of discussing with them what he perceived to be un-Masonic conduct in the consumption of alcohol, however, Clark reported the incident to Past Grand Master Garry C. Jones, who was the Grand Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, as well as the Secretary of the Fort Smith Scottish Rite.  Jones directed Clark to inform the Grand Master, and the result was a three-judge investigative hearing conducted at the Scottish Rite temple in Fort Smith.

Unfortunately, that hearing became patently unfair when George R. Franks, Jr., a former political opponent of one of the accused, was appointed chairman, with Garry C. Jones as an associate member, and the third being a Grand Lodge insider from the Little Rock area.  Each of the brothers from Sebastian Lodge left the hearing feeling they were already convicted, even though they hadn’t violated any Masonic law or rule.

In July, 2003, letters arrived from Grand Master Bobby D. Pope, declaring nine Sebastian Lodge members suspended from Masonry pending trial by a Grand Lodge Trial Committee.  Other letters were sent to all subordinate lodges in the state, explaining the Grand Master’s decision.  In December, 2003, all nine suspended brothers received summonses to appear for trial on charges of un-Masonic conduct, at 9:00 AM, January 24, 2004, in Little Rock, a three-hour drive from their home.

Formal charges were brought by Grand Master Bobby D. Pope, who also appointed the prosecutor and every single member of the committee to “try” those charges!  George R. Franks, Jr., who was the Grand Junior Warden at the time, was appointed prosecutor, while Robert L. Jackson, who’s the Grand Junior Warden today, was appointed chairman.

From the beginning, it was clear that the “trial” was a sham, and the outcome was predetermined; it was merely a formality, required to show some semblance of proper procedure.  Not surprisingly, by the end of January, 2004, each accused brother received a letter from Grand Master Bobby D. Pope, informing him that he’d been declared guilty as charged.  Seven of the nine were sentenced to ten-year terms of “definite suspension,” while the remaining two were reprimanded.  The lodge’s charter was arrested, and restored only after all of its elected officers had been replaced with Grand Lodge appointees, who agreed to work under a specially appointed Grand Lodge “supervisor.”

The brothers from Sebastian Lodge were convicted of violating Arkansas Masonic law, by consuming alcoholic beverages at an official lodge function.  Arkansas Masonic law at the time, however, only prohibited the sale or consumption of beverages containing more than 3.2% alcohol, while specifically excluding those containing less.  Although not common in Arkansas, 3.2% alcoholic beer is a staple in Oklahoma, which is just across the Arkansas River from the Fort Smith home of Sebastian Lodge.  By all accounts, the beverages the Sebastian Lodge brothers drank were 3.2% “Oklahoma beer,” which Arkansas Masonic law specifically excluded from prohibition!

Furthermore, the event in question was not a lodge-sponsored activity, and no Arkansas Masonic law has ever attempted to prohibit Masons from legally consuming alcoholic beverages, except at lodge functions, or on lodge property.

In 2005, when George R. Franks, Jr., was Grand Master of Masons in Arkansas, one of the suspended Masons attempted to appeal his conviction.  Despite clear implication in Arkansas Masonic law that any conviction carries an absolute right of appeal, Franks, who acted as prosecutor in the appealed case, declared that Masons who are sentenced to “definite suspension,” have no right of appeal.  In subsequent cases where Franks was appointed prosecutor, he used that declaration to circumvent Masonic law and effectively expel other Masons for life without possibility of appeal, sentencing convicted members to unprecedented (50-year) periods of “definite suspension.”

The primary purpose of the “trial” was obviously to punish Sebastian Lodge and its members for having the audacity to run against their Grand Lodge’s “party candidate.”

The charges were tainted, the “jury” was tainted, and clearly Arkansas Masonry has been tainted as a result!