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The Masonic (American) Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction

The purpose of this web site is to collect and disseminate information about the the policies of Freemasonry concerning whether or not, some or all, Grand Lodges should have certain rights over all those who live in their states or countries, Masons or not. This policy is sometimes called the American doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction, because many believe it originated and may only exist in the United States, and because it is sometimes believed to mean that each Grand Lodge has complete, or exclusive control over Freemasonry in its territory and over all persons, even non-Masons, in its territory in terms of anything Masonic.

This is a controversial topic, and even the definition may cause some to argue. The purpose of this web site is not to be a place for disagreements, or agreements, over opinions, but simply to collect the facts so those who are interested in this subject can find out what those facts are.

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California & New Jersey - 1984

The Grand Lodge of California withdrew recognition from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey, effective August 29, 1984 (this was done by the Grand Master of California, and ratified by the Grand Lodge of California in October 1984), because, in the words of the then Grand Master of California, "the Grand Lodge of New Jersey does not intend to abide by, nor [sic] recognize the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Grand Lodge of California." (California Grand Lodge Proceedings 1984, page 68)

On October 19, 1984, a new Grand Master of California announced an agreement with the Grand Master of New Jersey to "correct" this situation, and restored fraternal relations by the Grand Lodge of California with the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. (California Grand Lodge Proceedings 1985, page 58)  This action was ratified at the next session of the Grand Lodge of California, in 1985.

The break has lasted about 2 months, during which time California Lodges were ordered "to have no fraternal relations with a Mason carrying a New Jersey dues card ... including Scottish Rite, York Rite, Eastern Star and Order of Amaranth."

Note: The Grand Master of California said to the California Grand Lodge (1984 Proceedings, page 69): "The alternative to your concurring with my decision would be to amend our law ... as at least one other jurisdiction has done, to make it possible for a resident of this Jurisdiction to apply to a Lodge in any jurisdiction without first obtaining a Waiver of Jurisdiction." It was not said which other jurisdiction had done this, and it would be interesting to find out which one it was, when it did that, and under what circumstances, as this might indicate another U.S. Grand Lodge that has specifically rejected adherence to the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction.

The basis for the dispute between the Grand Lodges of California and New Jersey was the fact that Danny Thomas, the well-known entertainer, applied in February 1984 to become a Mason in New Jersey, while he was a resident of California. The New Jersey Grand Master was said to have claimed that Danny Thomas was a "citizen of the world" and thus, apparently, could be made a Mason in New Jersey as well as in California. Before Danny Thomas was given his degrees, the Grand Master of California had talked by telephone with the Grand Master of New Jersey, and made it clear that California claimed jurisdiction and would not grant a waiver of jurisdiction. The Grand Master of New Jersey issued a Dispensation permitting a New Jersey Lodge to proceed to give Danny Thomas the Masonic degrees on March 15, and that was done. Later, it appears that Danny Thomas applied for the degrees of Masonry in California, and was told that if New Jersey did not cooperate, he would have to go through all the degrees again, including the required proficiencies. It is not clear if Danny Thomas was required to that, because the new Grand Masters in California and New Jersey came to agreement on October 19, 1984, and Danny Thomas was said to have become a dual member in both jurisdictions.

The California Committee on Jurisprudence produced a report about this incident, going into some history of the "American Doctrine (sometimes called 'Territorial exclusiveness')". They found that there had been repeated violations of the Doctrine for nearly 100 years, but that the doctrine had become universally accepted in the U.S. by the end of the 1800s. They supported the actions of the Grand Master of California, but pointed out that a Mason might be a member of both a California and a New Jersey Lodge, and could continue to attend California Lodges because of his California membership. The California Committee on Policy and General Purposes referred to the consequences of this situation on the "unrecognized or 'irregular' Masons of New Jersey." But this committee said that the Grand Master of California directed dual members in California and New Jersey to request dimits from their New Jersey Lodges, and failure to present proof of this would result in immediate bar to communication with California Lodges in which they hold membership. They also questions what would happen to California Masons living in New Jersey who did not know about this situation and attended New Jersey Lodges. Would they be "tainted"?

It appears questions were resolved when the new Grand Masters in California and New Jersey came to an agreement, the exact details of which are not shown in the Grand Lodge Proceedings.

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Michigan - 1995-1996

In 1995 the Michigan Grand Lodge overwhelmingly approved a proposal to change the Michigan Masonic Law, Article VIII of the Constitution, Key 3-8, Sections 1-3, to state that,

"This Grand Lodge ... is the only source of authority in all matters pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry within its Chartered Lodges [emphasis added] in the State of Michigan."

It goes on to state that any group claiming authority over Ancient Craft Masonry in Michigan is clandestine and illegal if it is not fraternally recognized by this Grand Lodge, and that the laws of this Grand Lodge are paramount in all Lodges chartered by this Grand Lodge. The reason given for this proposal was that the original provisions were

"self serving and emanate as a self declared authority. The proposed revision provides that this Grand Lodge declares its supremacy to those Masonic Lodges which have received their Charters from" this Grand Lodge, and 'by the acceptance of that charter have agreed to the supremacy of this Grand Lodge." 

(see Michigan Grand Lodge Proceedings 1995, pages 235-236)

The Board of General Purposes recommended approval, and it was approved by a vote of 538 to 88. However, it was stated that it would not become effective unless and until it was confirmed by the lodges and brought back to the 1996 Grand Lodge session.

In 1996, this same amendment was again proposed, using exactly the same language and the same reason. It was adopted by a vote of 795 to 76, and the Grand Master said: "Brethren, I declare that Constitutional Amendment, Supremacy of the Grand Lodge, approved, and I certainly compliment you for your very, very great decision on this particular matter.."

(see Michigan Grand Lodge Proceedings 1996, pages 225-226, and 235)

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Oregon - 1997

At its June 1997 session, the Oregon Grand Lodge was considering a proposal to amend Section 6, Paragraph 4 of its Code, concerning "Powers and Activities of the Grand Lodge." (see Oregon Proceedings, pages 132-134) The old language was,

"To exercise exclusive Original Jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry in the State of Oregon."

The proposed new language was, 

"To exercise exclusive Original Jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry, for its members [emphasis added], in the State of Oregon."

The reason given for this proposed change was that without the change, a resolution to recognize the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Oregon might be deemed out of order and not allowed to come on the floor.

The Jurisprudence Committee recommended AGAINST adoption of this proposal, but it WAS ADOPTED with the full understanding of the following commentary by the Jurisprudence Committee:

"The generally accepted Masonic law in worldwide Freemasonry describes only two types of territorial jurisdiction -- Exclusive, where only one Grand Loge has sole and exclusive authority within the territory, and Concurrent, where all Grand Lodges may freely operate, with no consent required. Our Grand Lodge has always claimed and exercised exclusive jurisdiction over all matters or regular Masonry in Oregon, as all United States Grand Lodges did when originally established. [Note that that accuracy of this statement might be questions.]

"This proposed legislation would abandon our exclusive territorial rights and limit our authority to the control of our own members only, within the State of Oregon. Adoption of this proposal would make the state of Oregon an area of concurrent jurisdiction in which any and all Grand Lodges would be free to operate. Also this would apparently nullify those portions of our Penal Code which provides [sic] for our regulation of sojourning Masons from other jurisdiction, since our constitutional authority would be limited to our own members only, and the proposal does not address the question of our authority over our own members when outside the State of Oregon. There is nothing in Masonic law which provides a method for reestablishing exclusive jurisdiction over a territory after it has once been released. The decision is irrevocable. The majority of Grand Lodges in the United States still claim and exercise exclusive jurisdiction over their respective territories.

"The question presented here is whether we should join a minority of Grand Lodges who have waived their exclusive rights. [The report did not state which Grand Lodges had done this.] There are legitimate arguments which may be made in favor of both positions, but a majority of our committee believes that the trend is not yet sufficiently established, and that the best interest of this Grand Lodge would not be served by taking this step at this time.

We therefore recommend that this proposed legislation DO NOT PASS." [emphasis in original]

However, as indicated above, this proposed legislation WAS adopted by the Grand Lodge of Oregon.

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Rhode Island - 1997

The Grand Master in 1996-1997 recommended (see Rhode Island Proceedings 1996-1997, page 73):

"That Standing order No. 40, The American Doctrine, be either eliminated or at least amended to allow for the fact that several of our Sister Jurisdictions have recognized a second Masonic Body within their Jurisdictional territory. This conflict between an archaic and no longer necessary piece of legislation dating back to and resulting from political jockeying of territory in Colonial America and the long overdue emergence of a true [emphasis in original] Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God is simply not acceptable and must be addressed."

There was no indication about what action, if any, was taken on this recommendation.

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Alaska & Washington

In the past, in Alaska, where the Grand Lodge of Alaska has 19 or 20 chartered lodges, the Grand Lodge of Washington State also has 3 or 4 chartered lodges. It is sometimes pointed out that the Grand Lodges of Alaska and Washington concur in this arrangement. So, these two Grand Lodges that supposedly give lip service to the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction both accept the fact that some lodges in the territory covered by the Grand Lodge of Alaska can continue to give allegiance to a different Grand Lodge.

Recently (as of 2000-2001) Juneau-Gastaneau Lodge in Juneau voted to affiliate with the Grand Lodge of Alaska and to sever ties with Washington. The Grand Lodge of Alaska has scheduled a special meeting on January 31, 2001, (the day before the annual communication) to accept the request of this Lodge. Some of the Lodge's members were not too happy with the results of their vote, but the necessary majority was achieved.

This leaves only two Lodges who are physically in Alaska, but which fall under the Grand Lodge of Washington. They are the Lodge in Petersburg and one of the Lodges in Ketchikan. Ketchikan is a little unusual in that some of the old time members of Ketchikan #159 did not want to leave the Grand Lodge of Washington. Therefore, the other members petitioned the Grand Lodge of Alaska to establish a new Lodge. The two lodges work side-by-side, sharing the same lodge room. It is said to be assumed that 159 will soon merge with the new Tongass Lodge #19 because they have not been very active for the last several years - most activity has been going on in the new Lodge.

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State Masonic Rules, Policies, and Practices concerning Jurisdiction
Alabama Alabama has statewide jurisdiction
Alaska Code, Section 1.03 Constitution - Supreme Jurisdiction says: This Grand Lodge has supreme jurisdiction over all matters of Ancient Craft Masonry within the territorial limits of the State of Alaska and over such Lodges as it may hereafter establish in open territory belonging to the United States of America; except that it may share its supreme jurisdiction with the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Alaska and its Jurisdiction.
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District of Columbia SEC. 111. Where any Grand Jurisdiction, whose boundaries abut the District of Columbia has enacted legislation granting concurrent jurisdiction with the District of Columbia in any county or counties, city or cities, thus permitting a resident of such jurisdiction to apply to the District of Columbia Lodge for membership, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia does hereby grant concurrent jurisdiction permitting a resident of the District of Columbia to apply for membership ID a Lodge in such county or counties, city or cities.

NOTE: In February 1975 the Grand Lodge of Virginia at its annual communication approved a resolution amending their code as follows:

"Lodges situated in the District of Columbia, subordinate to the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, shall have concurrent jurisdiction as to entertaining petitions for degrees and applications for membership from petitioners residing in Arlington and Fairfax Counties and in the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church, with Virginia Lodges situated in said Counties and Cities, so long as the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia shall accord like privileges to such Virginia Lodges."

In view of the actions taken above, the District of Columbia Lodges may now receive petitions from residents of the areas described in the Virginia resolution and act upon them in the same manner as would be if the petitioner lived in the District of Columbia. Also, the Virginia Lodges in the same area may accept petitions from District of Columbia residents.

SEC. 112. A resident of this jurisdiction may apply for the degrees to a Lodge of another jurisdiction when such Lodge is nearer his place of residence than is any Lodge in the District of Columbia, provided the Grand Lodge of that jurisdiction grants the same privilege in like cases to Lodges of this jurisdiction. But nothing in this section shall be construed to abridge a requirement of twelve months' residence either in the District of Columbia or in the jurisdiction where the petitioner resides; Provided, That where a waiver of jurisdiction is not obtainable, by reason of the lack of Masonic jurisdiction on the part of the Grand Lodge of the State in which the prospective petitioner resides, the Grand Master may grant a dispensation to receive said petition.

DECISION

1.—Request for waivers of jurisdiction limited by action of the Grand Lodge of Maryland at its May 1952 communication, repealing Reciprocity agreement" heretofore in effect. The Grand Master of Maryland may grant a waiver of jurisdiction to the District of Columbia to receive a petition, but we have no such reciprocal agreement with the Grand Master of Virginia, except as provided in Section 111.

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Oregon Only claims jurisdiction over its own members
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Virginia

Sec. 1.01. Jurisdiction of Grand Lodge. — The jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Virginia is exclusive over all the territory in the State of Virginia; and, subject only to the paramount obligation of preserving the ancient landmarks of Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge of Virginia possesses sovereign authority over all Masons and Lodges within the state of Virginia.

The limitations of her jurisdiction, set out in subsequent sections, are conceded in a spirit of comity and fraternity to her sister Grand Lodges, but with a reservation of right at any time hereafter to recall any concession so granted.

The Grand Lodge of Virginia claims and exercises exclusive jurisdiction over every individual from the time he becomes a resident of Virginia until he relinquishes that residence and moves from Virginia soil, regardless of how long a time he remains a resident of Virginia. 1944 G. L. Pro., p. 64.

Sec. 1.02. Concessions to Other Grand Jurisdictions. — Any Lodge in an adjoining state, working under a Charter from a Grand Lodge in correspondence with the Grand Lodge of Virginia, may entertain the applications of citizens of this state residing nearer by an airline to such Lodge than to any Lodge in this state, may confer the degrees upon such applicants, and may admit them to membership as if such Lodge was duly chartered by the Grand Lodge of Virginia; Provided, that its own Grand Lodge concedes the same privileges under like circumstances to Lodges in Virginia. (1975)

DECISIONS

1916 D_14, _1.02 Concession in effect as to Grand Lodge of Tennessee. (J. B. Wood)

1941 D_4, _1.02, _2.103 If profane lives closer to N.C. Lodge than to a Va. Lodge he may apply to the N.C. Lodge under the provisions of Sec. 1.02. However, if the Virginia Lodge has been petitioned, he must be elected and then ask for a waiver. (T. J. Traylor)

1947 D_12, _1.02 Profane residing in Virginia but living nearer to a West Virginia Lodge may petition West Virginia Lodge in accordance with our law. (T. P. Coleman)

1964 D_21, _1.02 The concessions granted to other Grand Lodges do not operate unless the other Grand Lodge reciprocates where residential situations are reversed. (J. P. Stokes)

Sec. 1.03. Concurrent Jurisdiction of Virginia and Tennessee Lodges in the City of Bristol. — Lodges situated in the city of Bristol, subordinate to the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, shall have concurrent jurisdiction, as to entertaining petitions for degrees and applications for membership from petitioners residing in the city, with Virginia Lodges situated in the said city, so long as the Grand Lodge of Tennessee shall accord like privileges to such Virginia Lodges. (1975)

DECISIONS

1940 D_1, _1.03, _2.109 Profane living on Virginia side of Bristol who is rejected by the Tennessee Lodge in Bristol cannot petition Shelby Lodge in Bristol, Va. These Lodges have concurrent jurisdiction in the city. (N. S. Turnbull)

Sec. 1.03(a). Concurrent Jurisdiction of Virginia and District of Columbia Lodges. — Lodges situated in the District of Columbia, subordinate to the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, shall have concurrent jurisdiction, as to entertaining petitions for degrees and applications for membership from petitioners residing in Arlington and Fairfax Counties and in the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church, with Virginia Lodges situated in said counties and cities, so long as the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia shall accord like privileges to such Virginia Lodges. (1975)

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Also see an article about the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction

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