Rules of Order…In the beginning

Now before launching into this idea or post it should be noted that the Standard “Parliamentary Rules of Order” do not apply to how a Masonic Lodge functions. However it can be said that the way it does function closely resembles these Rules of Order, specifically Robert’s Rules of Order. 

So what is or are Robert’s Rules of Order?

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, commonly referred to as Robert’s Rules of Order (or simply Robert’s Rules), is the most widely-used manual of parliamentary procedure in the United States. It governs the meetings of a diverse range of organizations—including church groups, county commissions, homeowners associations, nonprofit associations, professional societies, school boards, and trade unions—that have adopted it as their parliamentary authority.

The manual was first published in 1876 by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert, who adapted the rules and practice of Congress to the needs of non-legislative societies. Ten subsequent editions have been published, including major revisions in 1915 and 1970. The copyright to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised is owned by the Robert’s Rules Association, which selects by contract an authorship team to continue the task of revising and updating the book. The 11th and current edition was published in 2011. – Wikipedia

So logically some may ask, “What is Parliamentary Procedure?”. OK fair enough. Parliamentary procedure is the body of rules, ethics and customs governing meetings and other operations of clubs, organizations, legislative bodies and other deliberative assemblies.

Every organization needs to have statutory rules to govern how their meetings are conducted. Masonic Lodges have used some form of Parliamentary Procedure to conduct business from the start, at least since 1717. Considering Freemasonry’s origins this makes complete sense.

Having been present at many Masonic Lodge meetings over the years and watched as many of these rules have been ignored, disregarded or just plain broken to varying degrees, it seemed fitting to discuss here. But of course as the italic print in the first paragraph stated, Masonic Lodges don’t use Robert’s Rules. Oh Contraire! Masonic Lodge do indeed, with some drastic alteration.

If you have the time and mind for the mundane, there is a copy of Robert’s Rules, re-written or edited, called Robert’s Rules of Order – Masonic Edition.

The fundamental difference is in how the 3 primary officers operate a Lodge, specifically the Worshipful Master. In normal Parliamentary Procedure the President or Presiding officers decisions can be overturned by vote of the membership. As we all know, this does not happen in Masonic Lodges. Any action of the membership of a Lodge that infringes on the authority of the Worshipful Master is out of order. In fact many aspects of a properly run Lodge are in conflict with what is considered correct Parliamentary procedure.

Some highlights of the Masonic Edition.

What proceeds a debate?  – before any subject is open to debate it is necessary, first, that a motion be made by a member of the Lodge who has obtained the floor, second, that it be seconded (with certain exceptions); and third, that it be identified as such by the Worshipful Master. This is just the introduction and I lost count years ago on how many times I have seen this rule broken.

So there is a question that you as a member think the Lodge should take action on, an expenditure of money for some reason for example. First, obtain the floor. This is the part that gets the least attention sometimes. To obtain the floor one must stand, if someone else is still talking (only addressing the Worshipful Master or presiding officer, unless permission is asked and given to address the member(s) directly), that member must wait until the floor is yielded (talking is stopped) and wait until you are acknowledged by the WM or presiding officer, then salute and address (speak) the WM or presiding officer. When finished, be seated. Unlike normal Parliamentary procedure the WM or presiding officer can end discussion on any matter at any time. Continuing to speak or debate on the item at hand after the WM has ended discussion is considered a Masonic Offense.

Now back to that motion for the Lodge to act on. The fact that a motion has been made and seconded does not put it before the Lodge, as the WM alone can do that (or not if he chooses). He must either rule it out of order, or state the question on it so that the lodge may know what is before it for consideration and action, that is what is the immediately pending question. Now there are rules to govern what can and must happen next but in essence either a vote is taken or the debate ends. No debate or other motion can be made until the question immediately before the lodge is either resolved or tabled.

It is however possible that someone may rise to amend the motion without consent of the seconder, but once the WM “puts the question” to the Lodge it can be neither amended or withdrawn by the mover.

Rising to Speak

Now that someone has the floor and the debate on the motion is ongoing some rules goverening who can speak and when. As before the Brother who has the floor by recognition and/acknoledgement of the WM cannot be interupted (except by the WM), except for the following reasons:

  • A motion to reconsider
  • A point of Order, i.e. and objection to the consideration of the question
  • Several others that are rarely seen in Lodges, mainly because one would need to be a parliamentarian to even understand them.

The main jist of the rules here are twofold. 1. that the lodge does not descend into chaos with members talking over each other or arguing. 2. The the WM’s authority be preserved and the speaker be protected.

To Second or not to Second

As a general rule, with exception given below, ever motion should be seconded. This is to prevent time being consumed in considering a question that only one person favors, and consequently little attention to it in routine motions. Where the WM is certain the motion meets with general favor, and yet the brothers are slow about seconding it, he may proceed without waiting for a second. Yet, anyone may make a point of order that the motion has not been seconded, and then the WM should proceed formally and call for a second.

A Motion in action

There are so many rules around making a motion that they are usually defined by the objections that can be made to them. Without going into it too deeply it should be known that the WM controls the debate and may gavel it down at any time. There are a few key motions and objection to them that make sense and are more or less used in a Lodge.







  • To Amend – this motion is used by the speaker or another gaining the floor to amend the motion currently being considered. Typically to clarify the wording of the motion presented.
  • To Lay on the Table (Table the motion) – This is used not to suppress debate but when the business of the Lodge is as great and the motion in question can be held over for another meeting.
    • Subsequently a motion can be made to take something from the table (opposite of laying of the Table).
  • Make a special order – This would be a motion similar to an amendment in that the person presenting the motion would call for special circumstances, i.e. asking for a super majority or 2/3 vote to pass the motion.

There are many exceptions and rules within rules when it comes to making a motion and objecting, seconding. The vast majority of which preserve the authority of the Master and protect the speaker.

Motion or Resolution

This can be easily spelled out in that a motion is a single action, where the cause or need is clear to all.

“I make a motion that the Secretary and Treasurer be empowered to pay all budgeted bills received by the Lodge during the summer while the Lodge is dark”

The need for the motion or action is clear to all in a case like this. A resolution is a more detailed explination preceeding the motion. This is where you will run headlong into Wherefores and Whereas before each sentance or paragraph.

“Whereas the Lodge is in need of _______________”.

This is then followed in the last sentence of the resolution with the question or motion:

“Be it resolved, the Lodge should raise funds or take specific action to address the above reasons”

This form of a motion is rarely used in Masonic Lodges today but can be useful to make an argument before the debate even begins. Amending by-laws is a good example. In that one can state the reasons why the by-laws should be amended and enumerate them clearly. This way when the question is put, everyone present knows why the speaker is making the motion. Of course there are specifics when amending bylaws that must be followed as well.

In or out of Order (and Appeal)

A question of order takes precedence of the pending question out of which it arises; is in order when another has the floor, even interrupting a speech or the reading of a report; does not require a second; cannot be amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it; yields to privileged motions and the motion to lay on the table; must be decided by the WM without debate, unless in doubtful cases he submits the question to the Lodge for decision.

In effect if a member rises to a question of order, even interrupting a speaker who has the floor, the WM must entertain the question. This is usually done if some overriding rule is being violated, i.e. the Lodge is considering amending the bylaws without following the rules laid out in said bylaws referring to amendments, like having multiple readings of the motion or resolution and/or 2/3 majority required, etc. Appeals to the WM’s decision on a point of order or question are not debatable in Lodge. The appeal would have to be made to Grand Lodge. After the point or question on Order has been resolved, the original question is returned to immediately.

The Summons

Yes the Summons as in “Summoned Communication” is covered in Parliamentary procedure. The object of a Summons is to compel the attendance of brothers at Lodge for reasons stated in the summons. A Summons may be issued in the case of a Masonic Trial, but may be issued for any cause at the will of the Worshipful Master. In most cases, a summons is sent out by the Secretary and under the seal of the lodge. In some jurisdictions, failure to answer a Summons is grounds for Masonic charges.

Is it Debate or is it Arguing?

There is a clear difference between healthy debate and an argument. As explained previously the steps necessary to obtain the floor, when no business is pending and a brother shall rise and address the WM by his title, be recognized by the WM as having obtained the floor, that brother shall make a motion, after being seconded, shall be stated to all by the WM, who “puts” the question to the Lodge by asking, “Are you ready for the question?” The question after being stated is open for debate. Typically no brother should speak more then once on the pending question, unless it is for a point of order or a privileged motion, like to lay it on the table or to ask a question of the brother who presented the motion.

If at any time the WM rises to state a point of order, or give information, or otherwise speak, within his privilege, the brother speaking must take his seat until the WM has been heard first. When called to order by the WM the brother must sit down until the question of order is decided.

Decorum of the Lodge as well as harmony must be maintained and that is the sole responsibility of the WM. Brothers ought always to address their remarks, comments or questions to the WM, unless permission to address a brother is asked and granted by the WM.

By the Vote

If the question is undebatable (discussed briefly above), or debate has ceased or been closed, the WM, immediately after stating the question, puts it to a vote as described under putting the question, only allowing time for brothers to rise if they wish to make a motion of higher rank. If the question is debatable and nobody rises to claim the floor, after the question is stated by the WM, he should inquire “Are you ready for the question?”. After a brief pause, if no one rises, he should put the question to a vote.

If the question is debated or additional motions made the WM should wait until the debate has apparently ceased, when he should again inquire “Are you ready for the question?”.

The usual method of taking a vote is viva voce (by the voice). The rules require this method to be used in Congress. In small lodges the vote is often taken by “show of hands”.

The responsibility of announcing, or declaring, the vote rests upon the WM, and he, therefore, has the right to have the vote taken again, by rising, if he is in doubt as to the result, and even to have the vote counted, if necessary. In the event of a tie, the WM should cast his vote to break the tie.

These are just a few of the highlights as the rules of order can be confusing and the minutia of which can certainly be more effective than the latest prescription sleep aid. However knowing the rules or even the basics can help maintain decorum and help a Lodge operate smoothly and efficiently. For if a serious debate about an issue facing a lodge is brought before it harmony must prevail and maintaining order and good etiquette is essential and should be taught in every Lodge. Like Calculus, some may ask when will I ever use this info? Well there are many aspects where knowing parliamentary procedure would come in handy and you will be the better man for knowing it.

Direct quotes and portions taken from:

Robert’s Rules of Order Masonic Edition by Michael Poll