Freemasons in the 21st century say their fraternal organization is not nearly as secretive as many believe, with only a few elements of their conduct, such as a handshake and meetings themselves, being confidential. They contend that they are the victims of many conspiracy theories.
According to Freemasonry rules, members must keep each others' lawful secrets, which, contemporary members say, has contributed to the fear from many that they are a corrupt secret society. Others say that the tendency of new members to believe everything about the fraternity is meant to be secret causes them to reveal little about the group's activities, fanning the flames of perceived conspiracy.
Throughout history, a number of people have believed Freemasons conducted significant international business behind closed doors, thanks to high profile members such as Benjamin Franklin, Mozart, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. However, while many small town lodges have been the scene of private political discussions among local leaders, modern members say the fear of a secret society running the world are unfounded.
Inside lodges, also known as temples, Freemasons do perform a number of religious rituals, but these are related to established religions, including Christianity. When the group organized from a stonemason's guild in the early 1700s, its members determined that it would include men of various religions who agreed in the existence of a higher power.