To the Grand Lodges of the Conference of Grand Masters for North America and to the subordinate temples of Shriners International:
By now, you will have received a letter dated December 8, 2011 from the Grand Master of Arkansas regarding action he has taken against Floyd R. Buffington, Potentate of Scimitar Shriners, as well as Shriners International. I ask your indulgence while I present you with the facts as I understand them.
The prerequisite for membership in Shriners International is that the petitioner must be in good standing as a Master Mason of a lodge recognized by or in amity with the Conference of Grand Masters of North America.
Bro. and Potentate Floyd R. Buffington is a Master Mason in good standing in the Grand Lodge of Iowa and was a Master Mason in good standing in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas until his membership therein was revoked by that Grand Lodge.
It appears that the incident in dispute occurred at a non-Masonic and non-Shrine event. Floyd R. Buffington had invited some friends to join him for a Christmas party at a local country club. A number of other groups were at the country club at the same time. There was another party in the next room for teens and the music was intolerably loud. After being asked to reduce the volume at the teen party, the mother of one of the teens became irate and a confrontation ensued between her and some of those at the Buffington party. This is the same lady who made her claims against Potentate Buffington. Who said what, and who commenced the incident, between Potentate Buffington and the lady, is subject to which witness receives your credibility. Suffice it to say, that the allegations of each party are disputed by the other party.
Brother and Noble Floyd R. Buffington was elected potentate of Scimitar Shriners for 2010. Under §325.2(b) of the bylaws of Shriners International, a Noble may not serve as potentate of any temple for more than 2 years. Potentate Buffington decided that he would like to serve a second term. This did not meet with unanimous approval. Among those disapproving was 2005 potentate of Scimitar Shriners, Carroll Elder. Efforts by some Nobles to persuade him not to seek a second term were not heeded. He ran, and the Nobles of the temple did elect Floyd R. Buffington to a second term - as their 2011 potentate. He has now completed this second term.
Soon after his election as the 2011 potentate of Scimitar Shriners, 2005 potentate of Scimitar Shriners Carroll Elder sent a letter to the Grand Master and filed a complaint in Springdale Lodge 316 (the home lodge of Bro, Buffington and Bro. Elder) alleging unmasonic conduct during the above mentioned non-Shrine non-Masonic activity. It is worth mentioning that Noble and Bro. Elder was not even in attendance at the activity.
An investigating committee at Bro. Buffington’s Arkansas Masonic lodge, consisting of Bro. Larry Holt, P.M., Bro. Gary Gambill, P.M., and Bro. Shane Howeth, P.M., looked into the complaint and brought no Masonic charges, but did note the internal conflict at Scimitar Shriners caused by the potentate seeking a second term. Further, no Masonic complaint was instituted in the Masonic lodge in Iowa of which Potentate Buffington is a member; nor any Shrine complaint instituted in Scimitar Shriners, the Shrine temple in which Potentate Buffington is a member.
A copy of the lodge investigating committee’s report is attached hereto and made a part hereof by reference (Attachment A).
Thereafter, the Grand Master appointed a Grand Lodge investigation committee, consisting of individuals of his choosing, to “look into” the allegations. After receiving the report of this committee (which report has not been seen by Potentate Buffington), the Grand Master charged Potentate Buffington with unmasonic conduct and so informed him. The Grand Master then suspended Potentate Buffington “from all rights of a Master Mason” in Arkansas pending the outcome of a Grand Lodge Trial Commission, that would take place at a later time. That is, the Grand Master suspended Potentate Buffington prior to any trial. Then, after the trial of the Grand Lodge Trial Commission, a report of the trial committee was sent to the Grand Master (but none was sent to Potentate Buffington). The Grand Master then sent a letter dated August 31, 2011 to Potentate Buffington informing him of his immediate expulsion from Freemasonry in Arkansas.
The investigating committee of Potentate Buffington’s lodge, of which Bro. Larry Holt, P.M. was a member as mentioned before, then filed an Appeal to the Board of Appeals and Grievances of the Grand Lodge regarding the expulsion of Potentate Buffington from Masonry by the Grand Master. A copy of that appeal is attached hereto and made a part hereof by reference (Attachment B).
I have been informed that Bro. Larry Holt, P.M. was expelled from Freemasonry by the Grand Master without a trial for filing the Appeal to the Board of Appeals and Grievances of the Grand Lodge.
Potentate Buffington, pursuant to Shrine fraternal law, asked that his Shrine membership not be terminated until he had an opportunity to be heard. A hearing will be held before the Grievances and Appeals Committee of Shriners International regarding his Shrine membership no later than the 2012 annual session of Shriners International in July. The final decision of his Shrine membership will then rest with the Representatives at the annual session.
I, as Imperial Potentate, held a telephone conference with the Grand Master of Masons of Arkansas on December 14, 2011. In attendance with me were the General Counsel and General Counsel Emeritus of Shriners International. In attendance with the Grand Master were the Deputy Grand Master, Grand Secretary (PGM), Grand Secretary Emeritus (PGM), Grand Treasurer and Grand Treasurer Emeritus (PGM).
During this telephone conference the Grand Master wanted to know what Shriners International intended to do. In response, the representatives of Shriners International outlined the different governing laws between the Grand Lodge and Shriners International; and that the Imperial Potentate had taken an oath to govern his organization in accordance with its laws and that the Grand Master took an oath to govern his organization in accordance with its laws. It was explained that disciplinary procedures in the Shrine are governed by §330.2 of its international bylaws which provide the guidelines for the determination of whether an accused Noble should be disciplined, the extent of such discipline if appropriate and to assure fair play and substantial justice as these concepts are understood and practiced in North America. As a result, it often takes a little longer to resolve disciplinary issues.
After further discussions, a Grand Lodge representative stated that Shriners International must follow the Grand Lodge laws in its Shrine governance within the state of Arkansas and referred to a letter written to the Grand Lodge on January 3, 2001 by the newly elected potentates of the two shrine temples in Arkansas, although they had not yet been installed. The original letter is in the possession of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. A copy of the letter is attached hereto and made a part hereof by reference (Attachment C). The provisions thereof were as follows:
Requested “formal recognition of the Shrine as an organization having Masonic membership as a prerequisite to its own,” and that they request “to be in amity with the Grand Jurisdiction of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Arkansas.”
The two potentates-elect go on to say that the letter is written “on behalf of the Master Masons of Arkansas who hold membership in the Shrine and is signed as such by the potentates of Scimitar and Sahara Temples” and “that in making this request, and on behalf of our membership, the officers of the Shrine acknowledge the Grand Lodge of Arkansas as the fundamental unit and foundation of the whole of Freemasonry within this Grand Jurisdiction.” The letter further stated that the two potentates “affirm that the officers of the Shrine will hold the obligations of a Master Mason to be inviolate at all times and under all circumstances.” And they affirm that “the officers of the Shrine will allow no person to visit a tiled meeting, or be admitted into or retain membership in either of the Shrine temples of Arkansas, who is not a Master Mason in good standing of a subordinate lodge of this or another Grand Jurisdiction recognized by the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Arkansas.”
The contents of the letter by the two potentates-elect were “approved by Imperial Potentate Robert N. Turnipseed.”
I further call to your attention that the foregoing letter never asked – nor could it – that the two Shrine temples in Arkansas would be “appendant” bodies of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and would be governed by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. This would be in violation of the articles of incorporation and bylaws of Shriners International.
Then, later on during the year, the Grand Lodge, by its unilateral action, perhaps at a Grand Lodge annual communication, recognized the Shrine as an “appendant body,” of the Grand Lodge. It is apparent that the Grand Lodge chose the word “appendant” very carefully and, thereafter, gave it a construction that connotes that the appendant body (Shriners International) is a subservient body to the supreme body (Grand Lodge of Arkansas).
Realizing the foregoing connotation, Scimitar Shriners, requested the Grand Lodge to withdraw its action of “appendant” recognition. The Grand Lodge has not done so.
During the telephone conference with the Grand Lodge on December 14, 2011, when the representatives of the Grand Lodge specified that Shriners International was an “appendant body” of the Grand Lodge and must abide by the decisions of the Grand Lodge, whether or not they are in conflict with the governing laws of Shriners International, the conference call was summarily concluded by the Grand Lodge with the statement that you “will hear from us very shortly.”
During the telephone conference, Shriners International requested the Grand Lodge to withdraw its action of “appendant” recognition. The Grand Lodge said it would not.
So, upon receipt of the December 8, 2011 letter from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, which was received on or about December 22, 2011, it was apparent that the Grand Lodge had made its irrevocable decision six days before the conference call (which was held on December 14, 2011), and all reasonable efforts by Shriners International to resolve this controversy in an amicable and brotherly manner were futile.
Prior to 1989, there had been occasional instances of fraternal controversy between Shriners International and a Grand Lodge. I am pleased to inform you that all of them had been resolved in the highest traditions of our two great fraternal organizations – Freemasonry and Shriners International.
On July 7, 1989 (some 23 years ago), at the annual session of Shriners International, a resolution entitled Sovereignty, Rights And Responsibilities was unanimously adopted by the representatives. I attach a copy thereof and make it a part hereof by reference (Attachment D). The resolution provided mutual clarity and respect for our two fraternal organizations. Any differences after that date between a Grand Lodge and Shriners International were resolved in accordance with the principles of that document. So, it is with sorrow that I have found it necessary to report to you in this communication about the unresolved differences between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and Shriners International.
The December 8, 2011 letter and edict from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas is self-evident. You have read it. To emphasize the severity of the edict, the Grand Lodge has informed Shriners in Arkansas that transporting children to and from our Shrine hospitals is a violation of the edict and that the Grand Master and will expel violators of his edict.
Before I end this Response letter to you, I would be remiss if I did not commend Bro. Floyd R. Buffington for his unselfish voluntary act. He, knowing that I cannot, and will not, violate my oath of office as Imperial Potentate and transfer governance of Shriners International in the state of Arkansas to the Grand Master thereof, took a demit from the Shrine. He is, therefore, no longer a member of Scimitar Shriners. Bro. Buffington demitted with the hope that the Grand Master would then revoke his edict so that the other Shrine Masons in Arkansas would not suffer the consequences threatened by the Grand Master. This solicitous and voluntary act by Potentate Buffington was brought to the attention of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas – to no avail. The Grand Master has declined to revoke his edict against Shriners International in his state.
I, as Imperial potentate, must now, with utmost reluctance, respond to the actions recited in the Grand Master’s letter. I must take appropriate action to protect and defend Shriners International and abide by my oath of office to “faithfully and to the best of my ability, discharge the duties of the office to which I have been elected.”
I will now, without further delay, issue a Special Order pursuant to the governing bylaws of our fraternal organization, to protect Shriners International from suppression by the Grand Master of Arkansas.
Dated this 13th day of January, 2012.
Michael G. Severe – Imperial Potentate
Monday, January 16, 2012
Shrine Response To Grand Lodge of Arkansas
The Shrine has officially responded to the Grand Lodge of Arkansas with the following letter of January 13th that has been widely circulated. It came with numerous attachments that I'm not able to easily post here because of technical limitations (my own skills, primarily), but the letter is the important portion: