Of all the Freemason charitable organizations, the best known is the Shriners. The Shriners are famous for their vibrant parades and their work with physically challenged children. Indeed, there are currently 22 Shriners Charitable Children’s Hospitals in existence.
In order to become a Shriner, a member must first be a Freemason. All North American Shriners adhere to the basic principles of Freemasonry: relief, truth, and brotherly love. The Shriner mantra is: “Pleasure without intemperance, hospitality without rudeness and jollity without coarseness.”
The Famous Fez
Though the Shriners throw amazing parties, parades, and do wonderful work with sick children, they are probably best known for their hats: red fezes with black tassels. The hats are part of the Shriners rich tradition. They derive from the holy city of Fez, Morocco, and the hats were chosen as part of the Shrine’s Arabic theme, which is the foundation of the modern Shriners movement. Despite this theme, the Shriners are in no way connected to Islam. It is a largely secular group that is focused on the bonds of brotherhood. The only religious connection within the group is that all Shriners must be Masons, and those who join the Freemasonry must claim to believe in a Supreme Being. In order to further separate themselves from a religious ideology, Shriners now refer to their “Temples” as “Shrine Centers.”
Shriners belong to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North American (AAONMS). An international fraternity, the Shriners boast 500,000 members throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and the Republic of Panama. In total, there are 191 Shrine Temples in these four geographical locations.
In 1872, the Shriners was founded in New York City by Master Masons. In New York City, the masons met at the Knickerbocker Cottage at a special table on the second floor. This group of masons was particularly popular because of their boisterous meetings, and willingness to have wild parties. There, the founders of the New York City branch of masons founded a new fraternity — one focused on the bonds of brotherhood rather than rituals. The founders of this new branch of Freemasonry were Walter M. Fleming, M.D. and William J. Conlin, and actor who went by the stage name: William J. Florence. Fleming went on to be the official founder of AAONMS, which is an anagram for “A MASON.”
Freemasonry itself is an ancient organization. Originally, it consisted of stonemasons and craftsmen who gathered in shelters and lodges to meet. Over time, men of different occupations joined the freemasons, and the group became less about occupation and more about the bonds of brotherhood. There are different tiers of Freemasons, and the highest level is Master Mason.
Until 2000, a person had to either complete the Scottish Rite or York Rite degrees of Masonry before they gained membership to the Shrine. However, now any Master Mason can join.
Most people know Shriners from their festive parades where members drive in miniature vehicles, donning their famous Fez hats. However, the Shriners are also committed members of their community where they participate in public projects. They fund treatment of young polio victims, individuals with orthopedic injuries, diseases, and burns. Anyone can receive treatment at a Shriners hospital, regardless of income, religion, or race. However, patients must be under the age of 18. In 2005 alone, Shriners hospitals approved 37,755 new patients.