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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
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American Legion Auxiliary: Girls State participants not allowed to attend Sunday Mass

May 25, 2012

Participants in Florida’s American Legion Auxiliary Girls State--which describes itself as “a nonpartisan program that teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and Country”--are not permitted to attend Sunday Mass, according to an American Legion Auxiliary official.

As a result, one of the 300 Florida girls invited to participate in the program is declining to attend.

The American Legion Auxiliary sets aside one hour during the weeklong program for a non-denominational worship service. When the mother of Margeaux Graham, one of the invited participants, asked whether she could drive her daughter to Mass, she was rebuffed by an American Legion Auxiliary official.

“The girls are not allowed to leave our program for any reason," said Robin Briere, secretary-treasurer of the state’s American Legion Auxiliary.

When the commander of Graham’s local American Legion post intervened on Graham’s behalf and asked whether a priest could say Mass for the Catholic participants in the program, he, too, was rebuffed.

“We are a non-denominational program and intentionally keep religion out of our program out of respect for the 300 girls that come from many different faiths," said Briere. "We set aside time on Sunday morning, from our very busy schedule, to allow each girl to honor her faith silently and the girls collectively put a program together to honor all faiths.

“This country was founded on the principles of religious and personal freedom, the fundamental rights that either you or your loved ones fought to protect,” Graham said in her letter declining to participate in the program. “It is disheartening that the Florida Girl State program is structured in such a way that it prohibits participation of young women who have a strong conviction for their religious practices.”

“Missing Mass is not an option," the director of religious education at Graham’s parish said in a newspaper interview. “If you're Catholic, you're obliged to gather with your fellow Catholics on Sundays to celebrate Mass and it's not something that we can choose not to participate in, if you're an active Catholic," Smart said. "Good for Margeaux for not being afraid to stand up for her faith.”

Briere, who is also a Catholic, takes a different view.

“The Catholic religion that I know is not that narrow thinking, but I do respect how she feels,” said Briere. “I'm not disrespecting her in any way. I just feel bad that she is being put in the position to choose between the two. Unfortunately, because of this, she has lost her opportunity to go to Girl State and that cannot be changed now. She's out of the program, and it was her choice.”


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Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 03, 2012 5:56 PM ET USA

    I agree with Dr Jazz. Why are we recognizing people who are literally "stabbing us in the back..." The bishops are clearly not doing their jobs, but do we as lay Catholics have to follow suit? The faithful Jews in the Books of Maccabees finally, with the blessing of God recognized common sense over the Law and concluded they should fight back on the Sabbath. Should we not be at least as wise? JP

  • Posted by: cvm46470 - May. 28, 2012 1:52 AM ET USA

    I had a similar experience with an agricultural camp run by USDA; my son would not have been able to leave "for any reason" even though I offered to arrange all needed transportation to Mass. He ended up declining the course, and we got nowhere in reporting the actions of the course director. Their office for "civil rights" concluded that there had been no infringement. Apparently any special 'need' - except religion - can be accommodated.

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - May. 26, 2012 7:43 AM ET USA

    How much better if Briere, 'also a Catholic' had been able to stand up for that young woman, and been a model of courage for all the young women attending girls state. Somehow Briere's statement that Margeaux 'lost out' on girls' state because she chose to honor our Lord and his Commandments first, is probably the best indicator that Margeaux by far made the better decision. I think she already demonstrates sound moral courage and leadership qualities and has litte need of girls' state.

  • Posted by: mrschips19308196 - May. 25, 2012 10:50 PM ET USA

    There are some Things more important than the American Legion Girls State. As Catholics, it seems we will more and more need to have to buck the tide in order to practice our Faith.

  • Posted by: tasha1996 - May. 25, 2012 10:21 PM ET USA

    Is mortal sin no longer in the vocabulary of Catholics? 1 Jn 5: 16 "There is such a thing as deadly sin". Are missing Mass on Sunday, contraception, abortion, homosexuality no longer objectively mortal sins? With all the widespread discussions of sexuality in the open even in grade schools, grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent readily fulfill the requirements of a mortal sin.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - May. 25, 2012 7:36 PM ET USA

    In a sense, this episode is already a fine lesson for Ms. Graham about the political landscape in which she will probably live her life: observant Catholics need not apply. It will require heroism to live a genuinely Catholic life in those days, but I'd say she's up to it.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 25, 2012 4:31 PM ET USA

    The folks at the Leesburg Daily Commercial do not understand that Catholics are not Protestants, and therefore, they make inane comments like "Briere, who is also a Catholic...".

  • Posted by: DrJazz - May. 25, 2012 7:17 AM ET USA

    "Briere, who is also a Catholic..." This kind of wording makes it sound as though Briere and Graham are somehow on an equal footing. Briere may claim to be a Catholic, but she is at best a bad one who is failing to practice her faith correctly, and who is persecuting her own Church. She should be called out in no uncertain terms. At the very least, couldn't we start with, "Briere claims to be a Catholic, but her views are in opposition to Church teaching"?