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Ultra Vires: The Grand Master Does Not Have Power to Remove an Elected Officer Without Cause

In his Sept. 7, 2021, letter removing S.K. David Kussman (who was unanimously elected Deputy Grand Master at the 68thTriennial Session just two weeks prior), S.K. Michael B. Johnson states that “I hereby remove you from office, pursuant to the power in me vested by Section 23 of the Constitution of the Grand Encampment.”

No cause is provided: The letter is omnipotent, a manifest declaration of a unilateral act.

You may read the letter below.

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The problem here is two-fold. First, the Grand Master is not omnipotent. That quality remains to God alone. And secondly, section 23 does not give the Grand Master any such power to remove an elected officer at will.

Section 23, titled the “Grand Master,” does give the Grand Master power to “change the membership [of committees] at [the Grand Master’s] pleasure.” See Const. § 23(c).

See the Constitution, here.

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Section 23 also impliedly grants the Grand Master power to remove appointed officers. See Const. § 23(b) (“[a]ll such appointees shall serve during the pleasure of the Grand Master”). But section 23 does not give the Grand Master power to unilaterally remove an elected Officer without cause.

In fact, section 23 specifically cites section 26 of the Constitution for how the Grand Master shall fill vacancies of the elected Officers. See Const. § 23(b) (vacancies in an elected Office shall be filled “as provided in Section 26”). Section 26 essentially provides that when a vacancy in the elected officer line is created, each officer moves up and the Grand Master appoints the Right Eminent Grand Captain General.

However, section 26 is specific in enumerating how the vacancy is created: “In the event of the advancement, death, permanent removal from the United States or permanent disability of the officer next higher in rank,” the section stipulates, the officer immediately beneath the vacancy moves up, and so on, until the office of Right Eminent Grand Captain General is vacated, which vacancy is then filled by appointment by the Grand Master.

Expressly, there is no provision for “removal” at all.

The closest legislation in the Constitution providing for removal of an elected officer derives from a Grand Master’s Decision, adopted in 1970 at the 51st Triennial Conclave, set forth by S.K. Master John L. Crofts, Sr., Grand Master.

S.K. Crofts issued this decision on Jan. 15, 1968, framed in response to a hypothetical question: “How, officially, do you go about getting rid of an officer, Constituent Captain General in this case, who shows an utter lack of interest, doesn’t attend and is an example of gross negligence?” See Proceedings of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar Masons of the United States of America, Fifty-First Triennial Conclave (1970), 535.

S.K. Crofts’s answer is that “[t]he officer may be removed from his office by the Commander following a formal ‘decision’ by the Commander finding unknightly conduct by reason of nonfeasance, misfeasance, and/or malfeasance in the performance of the duties of the officer of the offending officer.” Id.

It should be noted that, while this Decision is squarely based in the Constituent Commandery, imputation of this power is nonetheless implied by Crofts to the Grand Commander and the Grand Master, “under the vertical axis of power and authority established by Templar laws” which provides “similar authority” to the Grand Commander and Grand Master. Proceedings, 536.

This implication is not clear cut – the context is that, although the Grand Commander or Grand Master could remove the offending officer instead of the Commander, “problems [should] be solved where they exist and not allowed to fester while waiting for action by some higher authority” because “[t]he Commander has the tools to handle the matters at the local level, and he should not [expect] or invite outside intervention to solve his own problems.” Id.

The sense is, the Commander need not petition a higher authority to solve his own problems which his office has authority to determine. Even so, it seems reasonable that, if the Commander of a Constituent Commandery has this power, then so too should the Grand Master for “all officers within their areas of command.” Proceedings, 536.

But importantly, there are limitations expressly stated by Crofts in rendering this Decision, limitations imposed to guard against arbitrary conduct and the type of abuse occurrent in S.K. Kussman’s removal.

First, the officer in question must be grossly negligent or guilty of “nonfeasance, misfeasance, and/or malfeasance.” Proceedings, 535. Essentially, the officer must not show up or perform any duties required by the office (nonfeasance); make such errors as to be grossly negligent in the performance of the office (misfeasance); or deliberately violate the office for wrongful ends (malfeasance). In other words, there must be cause. The officer must act in some way manifestly contrary to the office and thereby act unknightly in a manner sufficient to call for removal by his superior officer.

Then, unknightly conduct must be found following a hearing on the question, to which a third-party should be present, which unknightly conduct is then set forth in a decision. Proceedings, 535-36.

Even then, though, there are strict provisions to safeguard against abuse. Crofts is specific, he recognizes the extent of this removal power as “practically unlimited” but only in the “absence of arbitrary conduct” by the presiding officer. Id.“Arbitrary,” again, means absent cause.

Crofts enumerates further that “[i]n the exercise of such authority, the Commander must always be concerned for the good of the Order, and such final step as removal of an officer should be taken as a last resort.” Id.,535 (emphasis added). Crofts states that “the Commander should give written notice to the offending officer to appear at a time and place and justify his conduct.” Id. (emphasis added).

The problem we have today is that S.K. Johnson didn’t follow any of this. He simply removed S.K. Kussman with a word because, we must conclude, S.K. Kussman spoke in support of ending the feud that a small faction of the Grand Encampment leadership is driving against the so-called “CBCS,” a sister Rite practicing esoteric Freemasonry. (For more information on the CBCS, see here.)

This small, motivated faction in the Grand Encampment leadership aims to supplant the recognized CBCS body in the United States, the Great Priory of America, with an unrecognized version of their own device – a clandestine version under their sole control. S.K. Johnson is a member of this clandestine CBCS group. You read that correctly: S.K. Johnson, Grand Master, is a member of this small group of Templars that deign to confer the degrees of the CBCS under a charter that was formerly annulled in 2015. Again, for more information on this, see here.

It’s hard to understand how, in standing up for what is objectively correct in the mind of most Templars, S.K. Kussman could be acting against the interests of Templary.

A super-majority (77%) of the voting delegates at the Triennial Session agreed with S.K. Kussman, voting that this feud should end. Apparently, that vote means the membership disagreed (or betrayed?) S.K. Johnson as well: Will he remove all of them too? Is this acting in the interests of Templary?

Such excesses of office should not be allowed to become Templar law.

At the Northeast Department Conference, Sept. 11, 2021, S.K. Michael Johnson stated that he removed S.K. Kussman because, for nine months, S.K. Kussman had been working as part of a committee appointed by the then-Grand Master, Jeffrey N. Nelson, to end the dispute with the Great Priory of America, the recognized CBCS.

S.K. Johnson said that he had been excluded from the discussions. Of course, S.K. Johnson being an active member of an unrecognized version of the CBCS, organized by S.K. Billy Koon for his own purposes – alleged to be active only in Canada, but realistically probably working in the U.S. as well – would not really help those negotiations much. S.K. Johnson has given no indication of his intent to resign from that group at all. In fact, his actions as Grand Master underscore the opposite.

Nonetheless, S.K. Johnson was apprised of the committee’s progress. S.K. Johsnon joined in several ZOOM calls regarding this subject, during at least one of which the 2021-23 Resolution was specifically discussed. In fact, S.K. Johnson did not vote against the 2021-13 Resolution when it was presented during that call – instead, he abstained.

Thus, claims that he, as Deputy Grand Master, was somehow deliberately excluded and kept in the dark are partial and positioned. It should be noted that, as an active member of the unrecognized and problematic version of the CBCS, his participation in any negotiations would probably not have been helpful anyway.

It is perhaps worth observing, too, that S.K. Kussman was performing his duty in obedience to the then-Grand Master – not the Deputy, Michael Johnson.

At the Northeast Department Conference Sept. 11, 2021, seeking to allay concerns over his actions, S.K. Johnson spoke in noncommittal platitudes regarding the violations he alleged of Kussman. He accused S.K. Kussman of violating his knightly vows, of acting in secret for nine months somehow against the interests of the membership. In this, S.K. Johsnon was yet unable to make any specific allegation for cause that could justify so unilateral an act as removing Kussman from office, nor any actual finding of unknightly conduct, nor evidence any hearing whereat S.K. Kussman was able to confront such charges as were brought against him.

A reasonable conclusion is that S.K. Johnson removed S.K. Kussman in retribution; for disloyalty, or, as the cover of the Knight Templar Magazine, September 2021 Issue informed the world, because S.K. Johnson, “Never forget[s] loyalty,” nor does he “forget betrayal.”

See the cover below.

The cover of the Sept. 2021 issue of the Knight Templar Magazine with the words "I Never Forget Loyalty, Nor Do I Forget Betrayal" emblazoned on the front beneath the Grand Master astride his horse

Objectively, it’s hard to see how S.K. Kussman’s acts constitute unknightly conduct.

Kussman represented the interests of the membership. He represented his conscience. Kussman followed the directives of the then-Grand Master, Jeffrey N. Nelson. Kussman assisted in restoring amity between two rites in Freemasonry, sister rites that have coexisted in the United States for almost 90 years and that share an antecedent history of nearly 300 years in Europe. How does this constitute misfeasance? How does this constitute Nonfeasance? Malfeasance? Gross negligence?

A stronger argument is that, in fact, S.K. Kussman is a man of principle, a man living up to the vows he swore to uphold to act in the interests of Templary, to preserve the institution, and represent the membership that elected him to office.

The stronger argument is that S.K. Kussman performed his duties and, because S.K. Johnson disagrees with these actions (and disagrees with 77% of the voting delegates apparently), Johnson felt it necessary to make a point, show power, and remove S.K. Kussman arbitrarily because, as he stated in his opening column in the Knight Templar Magazine, “I am your grand master.” Knight Templar Magazine, vol. LXVII No. 9 (Sept. 2021): 4. “If you disagree with me,” these actions show, “you will be sorry!”

It’s not just unknightly for S.K. Johnson to act in this way. It’s unamerican. Our system of law depends on due process. It thrives on checks and balances. It abhors despotism.

Every Sir Knight has a right to confront charges brought against him. And no one, no officer, Grand Master or otherwise, is above the law. We serve at the pleasure of the membership, not by the dictate of assumed authority.

It’s fitting to recall that the concept of distraint, first applied to King John in 1215 at the signing of the Magna Carta, owes no small part of its origination to the Knights Templar.

How far we have fallen.

“My life you may have, my integrity never!” Were so many of our members moved to such action in accordance with our degrees.

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