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Differences Between English, American And Continental European Practice
Since the early 18th Century, Freemasonry has evolved following the practices and history of each country, starting from the original minimum requirements. However there are three main traditions in present-day Freemasonry, which can be illustrated by England, the United States and France. France represents what we call the “Continental” tradition.
A first difference between the English-speaking organisations and Continental Freemasonry can be found in their external actions. The English and American Lodges are heavily involved in social activities which help individuals in need. The Continental Grand Orient tradition is more involved in trying to bring about a positive evolution of the social environment through political action, promoting laws to ensure more equality and solidarity.
And then there is also a difference concerning access to Freemasonry for women and the importance given to the more esoteric side of Freemasonry, representing the spiritual development of an individual.
The English tradition represented by the United Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.), which dates from Anderson’s constitutions in 1723, claims to be the only “regular” Freemasonry. It is followed predominantly in the English-speaking world,
For the U.G.L.E., a belief in God (or a Supreme Being) is obligatory and oaths are sworn on the Bible, or another suitable holy book according to the candidate's religion. Women are not allowed to join. But the choice of the rite and the ritual used is up to each Grand Lodge itself. There can be differences in the Initiation procedures, the Lodge meetings, the importance of symbolism and the adoption of charitable projects. Each Grand Lodge has its own internal rules.
The American tradition is typified by its heavy investment in charity projects and activities and its preference for the model of the “Lodge of Adoption” which includes women in Masonic activities. Women admitted to such lodges are required to be closely related – wife or daughter, for example – to a regular male Freemason.
Then there is the third tradition of liberal or “Continental” Freemasonry, typified by the Grand Orient of France (G.O.D.F.) and which is followed by a majority of lodges in Southern Europe and also many in Northern Europe. It does not require a belief in the Deity, and is more concentrated on the symbolic and spiritual development of the individual Freemason than in involvement in charitable works.
 The founding text, Anderson’s Constitutions, 1723, obliges the Mason “to obey the moral Law, and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine”. So a belief in God is not explicitly required, but from the beginning, oaths were taken on the Bible and candidates had to believe in the Deity.
 The Lodges belonging to the U.G.L.E. network are usually called “Grand Lodges”, while the Continental European tradition tends to use the term “Grand Orient”.