Friday, December 9, 2011

Michigan Shriners Future Uncertain


The Michigan chapters of a group best known for supporting some of the world’s best children’s hospitals is facing uncertainty.

The International Shriners of Michigan were recently told by their authorizing body, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Michigan, that they may no longer meet in secret and are hereby no longer recognized as an official Masonic body after a high-ranking Shriner was charged earlier this February with operating illegal casinos in Michigan.

“The expelled Mason … continues to be a member and Potentate of that Shrine. Elf Khurafeh’s action to retain him was subsequently upheld by the Imperial Potentate. This situation exists despite the reputed requirement that a member of the … (Shriner’s International) must also be a Mason in good standing,” stated Masonic Grand Master Frederick E. Kasier Jr. in a Nov. 23 letter to Masonic Lodges across Michigan. “Discussion was initiated with the Imperial Potentate, and counsel for the Imperial Shrine. The Grand Lodge of Michigan explained its position, and requested that the Imperial Potentate reconsider his decision, given information previously unavailable to him.”

He added, “Unfortunately for all concerned and with heavy heart, I must state that no modification of his position, nor of Elf Khurafeh Shrine’s, has occurred.”

Masonry is a centuries-old fraternal order. One must be a Mason to become a Shriner, but not all Masons are Shriners.

On Feb. 16, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that the Shriner in question, Craig Hayes Hatch, 53, of Flint, pleaded guilty to a five-year felony for operating illegal casinos and would be forced to pay a $100,000 fine.

According to Schuette, Hayes owned 10 Flint-area bars and was one of 53 defendants charged in the illegal gambling operation.

The bars owned by Hatch allegedly operated illegal poker-machines from March 2006 to November 2007, which allowed patrons to gamble as if they were in a licensed casino but without the consumer and other protections that come with oversight by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

“The Michigan State Police investigation revealed that Hatch paid cash winnings to patrons while taking measures to evade detection by law enforcement, such as writing patron initials instead of full names on envelopes used to deliver winnings,” Schuette stated.

According to Kaiser, the Shrine’s refusal to remove Hatch as a member violates Masonic rules which dictate that Masons may not hold official meetings when a non-Mason is in attendance.

“It is therefore my order that no Mason who holds membership in a Michigan Lodge, or in a Lodge chartered by a recognized Grand Lodge who resides or sojourns in Michigan, may (1) attend any nonpublic function of any Shrine in Michigan or (2) have any Masonic interaction of any kind with any Shrine organization in Michigan,” Kasier stated in his letter. “Furthermore, no Shrine function or activity will be afforded a special privilege not afforded any other unrelated organization that is allowed to use a building dedicated to Masonic purposes, or on the grounds of a building so dedicated.”

Kaiser warned that Masons who violate his ruling could be brought up on charges of un-Masonic conduct.

“I’m a Mason and I don’t have that fear at all,” said Detroit Shriner Potentate Robert Lee when asked if he felt the Shrine may be forced to dissolve. “All we’ve done is open up our meetings and activities to the public until further notice.”

Boyne area resident Edward May III is a Mason of 45 years and former Shriner who said though he may not always agree with the Grand Master’s decrees, he does abide by them.

“I firmly support the (Masonic) law,” he said. “I, personally, don’t feel this will be a major blow. I believe this will be reasonably and amicably settled between adults in the Shrine and Grand Lodge of Michigan.”

Though it has not gotten this far, May said the possibility does exist that the Shrine and Masonic Lodge could part ways.

“I hope it doesn’t come to this because divided we fall; united we stand,” he said. How does this affect people who are not members of the Masons or Shriners? Shriners Hospitals for Children as an organization was founded in 1922 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Children, up to age 18, can be treated at Shriners Hospitals located in Massachusetts, Texas, Utah, Canada, Mexico, Louisiana, California, Washington, Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Ohio.

The 22 Shriners Childrens Hospitals have an operating budget of nearly $700 million annually. They treat, often at no cost, thousands of children each year for burns, orthopedics, cleft palettes, cleft lips and more. And, much of their funding comes from the fundraisers organized and manned by the Shriners.

“Our contribution is significant,” Lee said. “The only charity we recognize as Shriners is Shriners Hospitals for Children and we have numerous charity functions throughout the country that benefit them.”

While the Masons are often thought of as having a cult-like status, May said more than 5,000 books have been written about Masonry which explain exactly what it is.

“The theory of a secret society today is no longer acceptable,” May said. “The Masonic fraternity is philanthropic for what they do for citizens, Masonic brothers and children.”

He added, “These deeds, while not well-known, are considerable.”

May said Shriners also drive sick children to doctor appointments and help pay for medical flights.

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