(by Andreas Önnerfors, OUPblog):
Freemasonry once again hit the headlines of UK media on New Year’s Eve 2017, revealing the contentious nature of the place of secrecy in public life. Just having concluded the celebration of its tercentenary anniversary year, the United Grand Lodge of England found itself at the center of a new (and simultaneously very old) controversy (in fact dating back to 1799). How far can membership in a masonic lodge be regarded as incompatible with the exercise of a public office? Is there any place for a secretive organization in a society demanding transparency? Or are the perceptions of incompatibility rather a sign of broken societal and mutual trust in times of political crisis?
The outgoing president of the Police Federation, Steve White, on 31 December 2017 made claims in the UK media that freemasons were blocking reform in the police force, particularly when it comes to a better integration of women, black, Asian, and ethnic minorities (BAME). Membership of predominantly white and male police officers in masonic lodges was to be regarded as an old boys’ network for self-promotion, posing an obstacle for reform. It should be noted that BAME-people are not excluded from membership in contemporary English freemasonry and that even women have their own masonic orders in England, which a recent BBC-documentary screened in November 2017 revealed to the general UK public.
What followed upon White’s sweeping claims was a string of reactions in the form of further articles, opinion pieces, and official statements culminating in early February 2018. This is not the place to counter White’s and other opinions (and circumstantial evidence) on the matter, but rather to look back at the UK-specific context that charge them with meaning and…