Margeaux Graham is really a quite reserved young woman, confident, articulate and anticipating the future that lays before her in a nation where women have the opportunity to become influential political leaders. She doesn’t sensationally seek the spotlight, and genuinely desires to adhere to reasonable codes of conduct in a democratic society. She takes sincere pride in her academic achievement. As a Catholic, she also refuses to compromise her obligations. This is her first priority, and now this priority has caused a conflict she must face. At a time in our country, and in our world, when threats to religious freedom plaque the media daily, this young woman’s simple and sincere willingness to challenge long-standing, but very flawed, policies and practices is inspiring.
What if everyone refused to dismiss the Eucharist with such boldness?
A Recap. It all started when Margeaux was selected to attend a prestigious Girls State session by the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) in Florida. She was chosen as a delegate based on her outstanding scholastic ability and her desire to learn more about how our government works. The session is a 9-day experience where the girls participate in a mock democratic government that fosters civic leadership and stimulates, in the words of the Director, a “desire to protect the privileges and responsibilities of our democratic form of government.” It is a high honor to be chosen for participation.
In preparing for her trip, to her surprise, Margeaux was told that she could not attend Mass on Sunday, and that her only option would be to attend the “non-offensive” non-denominational service offered for all participants. This was motivated at least in part by a concern for safety, understandably. The organizers do not permit the girls to leave the session alone for any reason. So Margeaux’s mother, willing to accommodate this reasonable concern, sought help from a sympathetic member of the local American Legion. She offered to come take her daughter to Mass, or to have someone arrange for a priest to celebrate Mass at the conference site. But — this accommodation was rejected. Margeaux then wrote the letter reprinted in the last article to the President of the state ALA chapter, explaining that she must decline the invitation, and the academic and civic honor extended to her, if it meant that she had to neglect her obligation to attend Mass.
Discussions are still underway and they are praying for a favorable outcome. The intent is not to disparage anyone, only to defend a teen’s right to attend Mass and to develop as a leader in our country. The accommodation being requested in perfectly reasonable, and defensible by the constitutional and civic rights guaranteed to citizens of the Unites States. A young woman should not be discriminated against because she is a faithful Catholic.
In the meantime, Margeaux has responded to the state officer who scolded her and told her God would understand if she skipped Mass. Margeaux is taking a stand, not so much over being accommodated, but at the insult to the Eucharist. This high school junior minces no words and flat out, boldly defends the source and summit of the Christian life. I hope someone at a Catholic university is able to help her with her future endeavors. With the exception of the first sentence, you might consider reading the opening paragraph out loud!
Mrs. [ALA Florida Officer],
This is Margeaux, not my mother. I am abhorred at the fact that as a Catholic you are unaware of the importance of the holy sacrifice of the Mass and that you would compare it to a dance competition or a track meet. As any good Catholic should know, missing Mass is a mortal sin, and should be avoided at all costs.* The celebration of Mass is the centerpiece of the Catholic faith; it has been that way since it was first celebrated at the Last Supper. As a Catholic, I believe that Jesus suffered and died on the cross so that we can have intimate communion with Him at Mass. That you find it acceptable to miss such an important aspect of our faith may not necessarily make you less Catholic, but it certainly demonstrates your lack of understanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
As for my not attending Girls State I do not regret my decision, after all why would I want to participate in a program that takes the experience of Mass away, even if it just for one Sunday. I am not trying to blame anyone for my decisions, they are mine and I take full responsibility of them. Though, I must admit that I am disappointed that I will not receive the academic benefits of Girls State.
You said that you intentionally keep religion out of your program, yet you are offering a Protestant worship service and refused for anyone to plan for a Catholic Mass. The front page of the national Girls State web site also states that the “American Legion Girl State is nonpartisan program that teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and Country.” In my opinion this all appears to be a contradiction.
By not having a Priest, Rabbi, or Imam present you are only satisfying the needs of the Protestants; after all “non-denominational” is a branch of Protestantism. If you were to accommodate specific religious requirements you would not need to prepare for 300 different groups. If the demographics are comparable to those reported by the Census Bureau, out of 300 girls at Girls State you would have the following estimated ratios:
120 Protestants – Accommodations have been made
78 Catholics – Accommodations refused
48 that are not religious- No accommodations necessary
9 that are Jewish – Address issues if request arises
9 that are of a different religion – Address issues if request arises
As you can see you wouldn’t have to accommodate 300 different religions, just three or four at the most. The two largest religious groups should be accommodated without question. Since the Protestant group has already been accommodated there are several solutions to accommodate Catholics. One, you could have the parents of the girls who are passionate about their faith drive to Tallahassee and take them to the necessary services; I understand that this is violation of the rules but those can always be changed and if it truly is important to them they will make the necessary arrangements. Two, allow a Catholic priest to come in and celebrate Mass at the same time as the Protestant service, as we attempted. Three, the Cathedral is directly across the street from campus; you could attend Mass with any of the girls who desire to go. Or four, you can shorten the week to seven days, after all the Boys State do everything that needs to be done in that time.
The bottom line is I was chosen as a Girls State delegate; I attended the mandatory orientation on May 6 in Winter Haven, however, I am technically not qualified to attend the Girls State program because I am a faithful Catholic with a well-formed conscience who understands the importance of attending Mass. Because of the way your program is structured I am excluded from participation because of religious obligation.
The lack of religious tolerance coming from this organization is a slap in the face to the founders of this great nation and those who fought to uphold it; after all, did we not spring from the principles of religious and personal freedom? And you cannot contradict the fact that if I were to attend the Girls State program, I would be denied these liberties.
*Catechism of the Catholic Church: For all these Biblically based reasons the Church properly teaches: the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. (CCC # 2181)
The ALA has apologized to Margeaux, and the organization is now reviewing the policy. From the Catholic state officer: “Margeaux, Thank you for your letter. It is beautifully written and I admire your strong belief system. I certainly in no way am trying to compare your sacrifice to the others I referenced in my email, though I see where you took it that way. I apologize for that.” She went on to say: “We are a membership based private organization and our members are our voting body. The policies and practices of our program will be discussed at the 91st Annual Convention to determine if a solution can resolve this issue to the satisfaction of everyone.”
This is a victory. Will she go to Girls State in June? Please pray over this matter and stay tuned, it’s not over. Margeaux says she accepts that perhaps she was not meant to attend, and God wanted to use her. The most important issue for Margeaux is her love for the risen Christ, a love that calls her to obedience, hope and faith. The state leadership has been, essentially, challenged by a teenage young woman who absolutely refuses to compromise her sacred obligation to attend Mass. She’s got their attention now, and for her the victory is not just an opportunity to transform an unacceptable status quo, it’s an opportunity to evangelize. If this 16 year old can get the attention of this organization, then as a group, we can get the attention of society.
She wants to share this with you…