But senior officers argue that their desire to create a compulsory register of masons within the police was necessary and that they intend to push ahead with the scheme.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said in October that existing freemasons in the police service should consider resigning from the society. They want the Government to introduce a new law to make registration of masonic membership compulsory. The police chiefs believe the register should be publicly available.
However the Police Federation, which represents the vast bulk of the 126,000 officers in England and Wales, said yesterday that they "deeply regretted" the Acpo proposals and said it was an "unwarranted interference with the private lives of police officers".
The Federation argued that there was little or no evidence to support the suggestions that officers had used their position as freemasons to enhance their careers or help out other society members.
The Federation argued that under the Acpo proposals officers who refused to leave the freemasons would be victimised and their careers would suffer.
It added: "We will express our concern that those in command of Britain's police forces appear more concerned to portray a politically correct image than they are to safeguard the rights of police officers in a free society."
But Paul Whitehouse, chief constable of Sussex, and Acpo spokesman on the freemasons issue, said: "Surely in this day and age the Federation, of all groups, cannot object to openness and transparency in the public service.
"This was a decision of principle taken by Acpo in both the public interest and the best interests of the Service,. We look forward to discussing the arrangements with interested parties, but it must be said that, whilst respecting other viewpoints, we do feel it necessary to take a positive lead on this issue."
The original proposal, made by Acpo's ruling council, will also affect membership of other secret societies such as the Catholic sect Opus Dei, an international organisation of about 80,000 members, and members of other organisations required to give "a bond of loyalty", such as the trustees of charities.Reuse content