The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter XVII
To demit from a lodge is to resign one's membership, on which occasion a certificate of good standing and a release from all dues is given to the applicant, which is technically called a demit.
The right to demit or resign never has, until within a few years, been denied. In 1853, the Grand Lodge of Connecticut adopted a regulation "that no lodge should grant a demit to any of its members, except for the purpose of joining some other lodge; and that no member shall be considered as having withdrawn from one lodge until he has actually become a member of another." Similar regulations have been either adopted or proposed by a few other Grand Lodges, but I much doubt both their expediency and their legality. This compulsory method of keeping Masons, after they have once been made, seems to me to be as repugnant to the voluntary character of our institution as would be a compulsory mode of making them in the beginning. The expediency of such a regulation is also highly questionable. Every candidate is required to come to our doors "of his own free will and accord," and surely we should desire to keep none among us after that free will is no longer felt. We are all familiar with the Hudibrastic adage, that
"A man convinced against his will,
Is of the same opinion still,"
and he who is no longer actuated by that ardent esteem for the institution which would generate a wish to continue his membership, could scarcely have his slumbering zeal awakened, or his coldness warmed by the bolts and bars of a regulation that should keep him a reluctant prisoner within the walls from which he would gladly escape. Masons with such dispositions we can gladly spare from our ranks.
The Ancient Charges, while they assert that every Mason should belong to a lodge, affix no penalty for disobedience. No man can be compelled to continue his union with a society, whether it be religious, political, or social, any longer than will suit his own inclinations or sense of duty. To interfere with this inalienable prerogative of a freeman would be an infringement on private rights. A Mason's initiation was voluntary, and his continuance in the Order must be equally so.
But no man is entitled to a demit, unless at the time of demanding it he be in good standing and free from all charges. If under charges for crime, he must remain and abide his trial, or if in arrears, must pay up his dues.
There is, however, one case of demission for which a special law has been enacted. That is, when several Brethren at the same time request demits from a lodge. As this action is sometimes the result of pique or anger, and as the withdrawal of several members at once might seriously impair the prosperity, or perhaps even endanger the very existence of the lodge, it has been expressly forbidden by the General Regulations, unless the lodge has become too numerous for convenient working; and not even then is permitted except by a Dispensation. The words of this law are to be found in the Eighth General Regulation, as follows:
"No set or number of Brethren shall withdraw or separate themselves from the lodge in which they were made Brethren, or were afterwards admitted members, unless the lodge becomes too numerous; nor even then, without a dispensation from the Grand Master or his Deputy; and when they are thus separated, they must either immediately join themselves to such other lodge as they shall like best, with the unanimous consent of that other lodge to which they go, or else they must obtain the Grand Master's warrant to join in forming a new lodge."
It seems, therefore, that, although a lodge cannot deny the right of a single member to demit, when a sort of conspiracy may be supposed to be formed, and several Brethren present their petitions for demits at one and the same time, the lodge may not only refuse, but is bound to do so, unless under a dispensation, which dispensation can only be given in the case of an over-populous lodge.
With these restrictions and qualifications, it cannot be doubted that every Master Mason has a right to demit from his lodge at his own pleasure. What will be the result upon himself, in his future relations to the Order, of such demission, will constitute the subject of the succeeding chapter.