Atheists and Freemasonry
According to the GOUSA's website FAQ:
"The GOUSA is not concerned with the religious, metaphysical, or philosophical beliefs of its members. A person’s character, not his/her personal and private theological beliefs, is the primary focus of the GOUSA."
Why then is the GOUSA making such hay of the fact that they have initiated a prominent atheist? If one of the primary tenets of their organization is "freedom of conscience" then the fact that Sister Downey is an atheist should be of no import. In fact, it should not even be mentioned, and certainly not advertised as some sort of accomplishment. Whether they intend to or not, the GOUSA is at the very least giving the appearance that they promote atheism, which is in direct conflict with their own concept of "freedom of conscience".
Too often it seems that liberal Masonic bodies use the concept of "freedom of conscience" to promote a radical anti-religious agenda. This has happened in the past with some of the larger liberal bodies, such as the Grand Orient of France, which has seen its members protest visits of the Pope to France while dressed in full Masonic regalia. Thus I suppose that it should come as no surprise that the GOUSA would follow suit. Nonetheless, just as mainstream American Masonic bodies do not promote any one religion over another even while requiring some sort of religious belief, liberal bodies should certainly not promote an agenda of non-belief, even while lacking a requirement for a belief in deity.
Freedom of conscience should go both ways. If one wishes to be free from religion, then that is perfectly acceptable. However, this does not mean that religion should be frowned upon, and those who wish to practice it should be held in the same regard as those who don't, particularly within a Masonic organization. As I mentioned before, one of the purposes of our Craft is to "cause true friendship to exist among those who might have otherwise remained at a perpetual distance". It is only through truly following the concept of "freedom of conscience" that this can be achieved. So mote it be!