The earliest anti-Masonic document was a leaflet printed in 1698 by a Presbyterian minister named Winter. It reads:
TO ALL GODLY PEOPLE, In the Citie of London.
Having thought it needful to warn you of the Mischiefs and Evils practiced in the Sight of God by those called Freed Masons, I say take Care lest their Ceremonies and secret Swearings take hold of you; and be wary that none cause you to err from Godliness. For this devllish Sect of Men are Meeters in secret which swear against all without ther Following. They are the Anti Christ which was to come leading Men from Fear of God. For how should Men meet in secret Places and with secret Signs taking Care that none observed them to do the Work of GOD; are not these the Ways of Evil-doers?
In 1826, William Morgan disappeared from the small town of Batavia, New York, after threatening to expose Freemasonry's "secrets" by publishing its rituals. His disappearance caused some Anti-masons to claim that he had been kidnapped and murdered by Masons. Morgan's disappearance sparked a series of protests against Freemasonry, which eventually spread to the political realm. Under the leadership of anti-Masonic Thurlow Weed, an Anti-Jacksonist movement became (since Jackson was a Mason) the Anti-Masonic Party. This political Party ran presidential candidates in 1828 and 1832, but by 1835 the party had disbanded everywhere except Pennsylvania.
In the United Kingdom, anti-Masonic sentiment grew following the publication of Martin Short's 1989 book, Inside the Brotherhood (Further Secrets of the Freemasons). The allegations made by Short led several members of the British Government to propose laws requiring Freemasons who join the police or judiciary to declare their membership publicly to the government amid accusations of Freemasons performing acts of mutual advancement and favour-swapping. This movement was initially led by Jack Straw, Home Secretary from 1997 until 2001. In 1999, the Welsh Assembly became the only body in the United Kingdom to place a legal requirement on membership declaration for Freemasons. Currently, existing members of the police and judiciary in England are asked to voluntarily admit to being Freemasons. However, all first time successful judiciary candidates had to "declare their freemasonry status" before appointment until 2009, when – following a successful challenge in the European Court by Italian Freemasons – Jack Straw accepted that the policy was "disproportionate" and revoked it. Conversely, new members of the police are not required to declare their status.
In 2004, Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, in Great Britain, said that he blocked Gerard Elias' appointment to counsel general because of links to hunting and freemasonry, although it was claimed by non-Labour politicians that the real reason was in order to have a Labour supporter, Malcolm Bishop, in the role.
Soviet Russia outlawed all secret societies, including Masonry, in 1922. At one of the Second International meetings Grigory Zinoviev demanded to purge it of masons. Freemasonry did not exist in the Soviet Union, China, or most other Communist states. Postwar revivals of Freemasonry in Czechoslovakia and Hungary were suppressed in 1950. However, Freemasonry in Cuba continued to exist following the Cuban Revolution, and according to Cuban folklore, Fidel Castro is said to have "developed a soft spot for the Masons when they gave him refuge in a Masonic Lodge" in the 1950s. However, when in power, Castro was also said to have "kept them on a tight leash" as they were considered a subversive element in Cuban society.
Fascists treated Freemasonry as a potential source of opposition. Masonic writers state that the language used by the totalitarian regimes is similar to that used by some modern critics of Freemasonry.
Consistently considered an ideological foe of Nazism in their world perception (Weltauffassung), Freemasonic Concentration Camp inmates were graded as "Political" prisoners, and wore an inverted (point down) red triangle.
In 1943, the Propaganda Abteilung, a delegation of Nazi Germany's propaganda ministry within occupied France, commissioned the propaganda film Forces occultes. The film virulently denounces Freemasonry, parliamentarianism and Jews as part of Vichy's drive against them and seeks to prove a Jewish-Masonic plot.
The number of Freemasons from Nazi occupied countries who were killed is not accurately known, but it is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Freemasons perished under the Nazi regime. The Government of the United Kingdom established Holocaust Memorial Day to recognise all groups who were targets of the Nazi regime, and counter Holocaust denial. Freemasons are listed as being among those who were targeted.
In 1980, the Iraqi legal and penal code was changed by Saddam Hussein and the ruling Ba'ath Party, thereby making it a felony to "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organizations."
Freemasonry has been alleged to hold back its members from fully committing to their nation. Critics claim that compared to Operative Masonry's clear denunciations of treachery, Speculative Masonry (Freemasonry after 1723) was far more ambiguous. The old Catholic Encyclopedia alleges that Masonic disapproval of treachery is not on moral grounds but on the grounds of inconvenience to other Masons. It also argues that the adage "Loyalty to freedom overrides all other considerations" justifies treason, and quotes Albert Mackey, who said "... if treason or rebellion were masonic crimes, almost every mason in the United Colonies (America), in 1776, would have been subject to expulsion and every Lodge to a forfeiture of its warrant by the Grand Lodges of England and Scotland, under whose jurisdiction they were at the time".
Freemasonry, however, charges its members that: "In the state you are to be a quiet and peaceful subject, true to your government and just to your country; You are not to countenence disloyalty or rebellion, but patiently submit to legal authority and conform with cheerfulness to the government of the country in which you live."
With this charge in mind, American Freemasons are consistent advocates of the US Constitution, including the separation of church and state, which was seen by the Roman Catholic Church as a veiled attack on the Church's place in public life.
Due to its secretive nature Freemasonry has long been a target of conspiracy theories in which it is either bent on world domination or already secretly in control of world politics.
Historically, complaints have been made that the Masons have secretly plotted to create a society based on the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity, separation of church and state and (in Nazi Germany) a Jewish plot for religious tolerance. Similarly, some anti-Masons have claimed that Freemasonry is a Jewish front for world domination, or is at least controlled by Jews for this goal. An example of this is the notorious literary forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hitler outlawed Freemasonry partially for this reason. The covenant of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas claims that Freemasonry is a "secret society" founded as part of a Zionist plot to control the world.
The earliest document accusing Freemasonry of being involved in a conspiracy was Enthüllungen des Systems der Weltbürger-Politik (“Disclosure of the System of Cosmopolitan Politics”), published in 1786. The book claimed that there was a conspiracy of Freemasons, Illuminati and Jesuits who were plotting world revolution. During the 19th Century, this theory was repeated by many Christian counter-revolutionaries, who saw Freemasons as being behind every attack on the existing social system.
One of the first highly vocal Christian critics of freemasonry was Charles Finney. In his book The Character, Claims, and Practical Workings of Freemasonry, Finney not only ridicules the masons but also explains why he viewed leaving the association as an essential act 3 years after his conversion to Christianity and entering seminary.
A number of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox denominations discourage their congregants from joining Masonic lodges, although this differs in intensity according to the denomination. Some simply express mild concern as to whether Freemasonry is compatible with Christianity while, at the other extreme, some accuse the fraternity of outright devil worship, by quoting the writings of Leo Taxil and Abel Clarin de la Rive.
The Roman Catholic Church has, since 1738, prohibited membership in Masonic organizations, citing both political and religious reasons. Until 1983 the penalty for Catholics who joined the fraternity was excommunication. Since that time the punishment has been an interdict, barring the offender from Holy Communion. Although the canonical penalty changed in 1983, the prohibition on membership has not.
Many Islamic anti-Masonic arguments are closely tied to both Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, though other criticisms are made such as linking Freemasonry to Dajjal. Some Muslim anti-Masons argue that Freemasonry promotes the interests of the Jews around the world and that one of its aims is to rebuild the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem after destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In article 28 of its Covenant, Hamas states that Freemasonry, Rotary, and other similar groups "work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions...." Many countries with a significant Muslim population do not allow Masonic establishments within their jurisdictions. However, countries such as Turkey and Morocco have established Grand Lodges while in countries such as Malaysia, and Lebanon there are District Grand Lodges operating under a warrant from an established Grand Lodge.