Judge Robert W. Schrader, 32°, K.C.C.H.

Freemasonry’s most basic teachings, if followed, make good, even great, parents.

When families fail, courts in the United States face, on a daily basis, the difficult job of deciding which parent or other individual should have the custody of minor children. This is true not only in divorce cases, but in a growing number of paternity actions where the parents are not married. Some of those decisions are easy, for instance when one parent is a very good parent and the other isn’t. Most decisions are more difficult. Either both are marginal parents or, in the vast majority of cases, either would be a proper person to raise the children.

The standard now used by the courts is called, "the best interest of the child." It wasn’t always that way. For most of human history, the family remained an economic unit ruled by a male head of household. Children were seen as property, and in Great Britain, the United States and many other countries, this concept meant that the custody of the child was awarded to the father. Then, the concept of ownership changed to the "tender years" doctrine where younger children were usually placed in the custody of the mother. Beginning in the early 1970s, however, courts started to apply a gender-neutral "best interests of the child test" which takes into consideration which parent, regardless of gender, best serves the child’s need.

In my day-to-day work as a judge, I have to determine what is in the best interest of a child when making custody placements. There are statutory directives in some states and case law (what the appeals courts have ruled in similar cases) in all states. Both provide direction to the judge, but after a period of time, it has become clear to me that the very things taught in the Masonic Orders as the characteristics of a proper parent, male or female, are the same qualities courts hope to find in the custodial parent.

Masons are taught not only to be better persons to their fellows, but to be better parents to their children. Those teachings aren’t available to every parent, nor does that mean that every Mason is by definition a good parent. What it does mean is that application of those Masonic teachings has a real and meaningful application in family courts. What better parenting class than the application of Masonic principles in the family!

Most of us probably don’t think of Masonry as training for parenthood. Yet, our most basic teachings, if followed, make good, even great, parents. When Masons fit themselves as better men in their communities, they are also making both themselves as parents and the community they live in better for their children. We provide (on a large scale) scholarships to aid education and medical treatment for those children who require assistance. Generally, we promote reverence to God, and we work at making this world a better place in which to live. We teach freedom of thought, moral improvement, and toleration. We involve our children in youth activities that have the same ideals: Job’s Daughters, Rainbow for Girls, and DeMolay for young men.

Judges hope to find parents with that outlook, that Masonic perspective, on raising a family. A parent who will share the child freely with the other parent, regardless of how he or she feels about the other parent (a lesson taught in the 14th Degree of the Scottish Rite) is vital to the child’s well-being and future development. The child not only needs to be housed and fed but also nurtured in a good environment. The great Masonic teaching of morality and philosophy needs to be applied first in the family setting. We are taught in Blue Lodge that family comes first. When the "Light" we receive in Masonry is applied in the family setting, we can work miracles.

The application of Masonic principles doesn’t need to be applied solely in the court setting. When those principles are used on a daily basis, there may be no reason for the courts to even become involved. For, like being a good parent, being a good spouse also seems to happen when Masonry is practiced out of the Lodge as well as in the Lodge, in our homes as well as in our communities. Masonry is taught in our Lodges, Chapters, Councils, Commanderies, and all the other places where Masons meet, but it needs to be applied at home, at work, and in our everyday lives.

Live your life at the speed of "Light." If you do, neither I nor my fellow judges will ever see you in court, and, best of all, you won’t have to deal with my esteemed colleagues who practice law in your town. Freemasonry teaches a way of life for every family. But it only works if you practice it.

Robert W. Schrader
is an attorney-at-law and a District Court Commissioner (Judge) in the First Judicial District, Laramie County, Wyoming. A Past Master of Burns Lodge No. 41, Burns, Wyoming, and a Past Wise Master, Chapter of Rose Croix, and Junior Warden, Lodge of Perfection, of the Cheyenne Scottish Rite Bodies, he works in several Degrees and is Co-Director of Work for Scottish Rite Reunions. He is also President of the Scottish Rite Foundation of Wyoming.