Category: Diversity

Statement from the CMU BSN Nursing Class of 2015

Colorado Mesa University’s 2015 Bachelor of Science in Nursing class graduating students have issued the following statement about today’s resolution of the Gideon Bible giveaway controversy that has taken place over the last several weeks:

 

November 18, 2015

To whom it may concern;

We, the Colorado Mesa University BSN class of December 2015, have collectively reached a resolution regarding the recent events surrounding our pinning ceremony. We respectfully request that any interested parties cease any further action and involvement. We ask that you allow us to celebrate our accomplishments amongst family and friends without controversy. Thank you.

Sincerely, BSN Class of December 2015

Congratulations to all the graduates on your wonderful accomplishments. You will no doubt do great things in the world!

Foster: Bible Giveaways Over at CMU

Victory

A victory for separation of church and state locally

In a clean win for common sense and the separation of church and state locally, Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster announced this morning that he is ending all on-campus bible giveaways at CMU.

In a note to people who had contacted him about the issue, Foster thanked those who had provided him feedback and potential solutions about what to do with the longstanding but now highly controversial tradition.

Foster wrote,

I have had additional discussions with Health Sciences faculty and nursing students. I have sought legal counsel and researched legal precedent. I have listened to the divergent viewpoints of others. Taking all that into consideration, the Bible give-away at the pinning ceremony will be discontinued.Though the presentation of Bibles to graduating nurses by the Gideons at the pinning ceremony is a long-standing, international tradition and the pinning ceremony itself does, in fact, have religious roots, it is important to remain focused upon and to celebrate the accomplishment achieved by all of our graduating students at the December 2015 Commencement.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation Weighs in on CMU’s Graduation Bible Giveaway

GradBThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster urging him to end the practice of allowing Gideons International to hand out bibles to students at on-campus graduation ceremonies.

A group of students who are about to graduate from CMU’s nursing program have protested an administration plan to have Gideon Bibles offered to students at their December 11 pinning ceremony at Moss Auditorium. Program instructors indicated to the nursing students that the bible giveaway was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony. Later, under pressure, program staff held a mandatory vote on it by email only, a method that would allow them to identify the dissenting students.

On-Campus Bible Giveaway Still On; CMU Nursing Students Unhappy with School’s Response to Bible Protest

GJ_CMU_sign2-630x418The anonymous Colorado Mesa University nursing students who oppose administration plans to hand out Gideon Bibles at their December 11 pinning ceremony are livid at the school’s response to their protest, and have already contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) about their plight.

“We are serious about it,” one of the anonymous complainants said.

Some students opposing the bible handout aren’t Christians, and some of them have no religious bent at all.

Bible handouts at nurses’ pinning ceremonies are normally features of religious institutions of higher learning, like Baptist or Christian colleges. It’s rare for a publicly-funded college or university to highlight a specific religion at a graduation ceremony this way, or for their graduation ceremonies to have any religious component at all, because of federal laws governing the separation of church and state.

The students want to remain anonymous because they’ve already gotten harassment and ridicule for speaking out against CMU’s endorsement of Christianity. They do not want to be put in the position of having to refuse to accept a bible in front of other people because a Catholic hospital is the biggest medical employer in the area, and they feel refusing to take a bible (or failing to be seen picking one up off a table) could negatively impact their ability to get jobs locally. Some of them may continue to have to interact with the same instructors in graduate programs.

Beyond that, the bible handout is more than just unfair to the nursing program’s non-Christian, atheist and agnostic students. It’s most likely illegal, and by allowing bibles to be given out on campus at a school-sponsored function, CMU may be crossing a legal line.

Under U.S. law, publicly-funded schools cannot give the appearance of endorsing any religion.

In a June 19, 2000 Supreme Court, ruling (pdf) in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe, the Court wrote:

“[S]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

Giving away Christian bibles at an on-campus, school-sponsored event like a pinning ceremony — even if the bibles are simply set on a table for pickup — would give the distinct appearance that the school endorses that religion.

“Outing” the Protesters

Some school staff have claimed that the 31 students of the graduating class had already voted on the matter some time ago, but that’s not the case.  A memo nursing students got from staff earlier in the fall listed pinning ceremony requirements and indicated quite clearly that the bible giveaway was a non-negotiable part of the program. Also, the Director of CMU’s nursing program, Debra Bailey, sent out an email only yesterday, November 12, asking all of the students to vote by email on whether the bible giveaway should be part of the ceremony. The problem with this, aside from this vote being taken very late in the game and only under pressure, is that Ms. Bailey made the vote mandatory and ordered all of the students to submit their votes by email, which would of course allow her to “out” all of the protesters.

Is a vote like that fair? “No, of course not,” say the complaining students, who sought an anonymous vote on the matter. This vote seems more like a trap than anything else.

Screen shot 2015-11-13 at 4.41.51 PM

An Easy Fix

There is really no reason for all the hand-wringing, finger-pointing and agonizing that’s going on over this event, by students or staff. There is a very easy way to defuse the whole problem, stop cold any potential threat of litigation against CMU and its instructors and satisfy the upset nursing students 100% percent without inconveniencing anyone or costing anything: Move the Gideon Bible giveaway off campus entirely.

The Gideon volunteer could sit at the Christian coffee bar across 12th Street from CMU with the bibles, and nursing grads can be instructed to go to the coffee bar after the pinning ceremony to get one if they want it. Rather than putting unwilling people in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse a bible or be seen not taking one at the pinning ceremony, just make the books available to all the people who want them at an easily-accessible, comfortable location nearby off campus.

Voila’! Problem solved.

How Far Will CMU Staff Push the Matter?

All that remains to be seen is how far CMU Nursing Program staff are willing to push their luck with this issue, in the face of clear and fairly recent case law on the subject. Staff can insist on keeping the bible giveaway on campus and take their chances with a group of upset students contacting the ACLU and the FFRF, or they can solve the entire problem, placate the students and save CMU and themselves from any legal threat and just move it off campus.

It’s so easy to fix this problem and make everyone happy, but will they?

Given how issues of separation of church and state have played out in Grand Junction in the past, where elected officials have tried to prove a religious point by avoiding the easy, sensible solution and instead choosing expensive, convoluted solutions that cost taxpayers a lot of money, this issue could go either way. If this issue goes the wrong way, though, it could put CMU out on a limb.

Let’s hope that’s not the case with this issue at CMU. Let’s hope that the school administrators choose the simple, sensible solution, and move the bible giveaway off campus. Then they can avoid this thorny problem into the future by learning from it, honoring and respecting the diversity that exists on campus, and steadfastly avoiding any activity that resembles an endorsement of religion on campus from here on out.

 

 

 

 

CMU to Force Christian Bibles on RN/BSN Grads; Nursing Students Fight it

A box of Bibles from Gideons International

A box of Bibles from Gideons International

Students about to graduate from Colorado Mesa University’s RN/BSN nursing program are fighting a school-sponsored plan to hand out Gideon Bibles to nursing graduates after they step down from the dais at their pinning ceremony. The December 11 pinning ceremony is a symbolic welcoming of newly-graduated nurses into the nursing profession, and is the nursing students’ official, school-sponsored graduation ceremony.

Students Given No Choice

RN/BSN Nursing program administrators let students vote on many details of their own graduation ceremony, like the location and photographer, but made it clear to students that the Bible give-away was a non-negotiable part of the ceremony.

The Bibles are to be distributed by a local volunteer for Gideons International, a Christian evangelical organization that works to convert people to Christianity. According to their website, Gideons International is “dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.” The Gideons are primarily known for putting Bibles in hotel and motel night stands, but they also distribute Bibles to elementary schools starting in the 5th grade, and to colleges, prisons, jails, hospitals and medical offices.

CMU nursing students who aren’t Christian and some who aren’t religious were appalled that they would be forced to either accept or reject a Christian Bible in front of the entire audience at their graduation ceremony. The students protested the Bible give-away to CMU president Tim Foster, but nursing program faculty attempted to ridicule the complaint and told students it is simply “what we do,” and they should just accept the Bible as a gift.

christianNurseThe disaffected students then contacted Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (WCAF), a group that advocates for the separation of church and state. WCAF wrote a letter (pdf) to CMU President Foster and Diana Bailey, the head of CMU’s RN/BSN program, on the students’ behalf explaining that many students in CMU’s 2015 nursing class who aren’t Christians find the Bible give-away offensive and improper.  Under the law, WCAF said, the Gideons can give away Bibles, but only if they stand on city-owned sidewalk, well off school property, while they do it.

CMU Focuses Exclusively on Christianity

“It’s a blatant disregard of other peoples’ religion,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous, to WCAF members. Another student wondered why just one religion would be represented at the ceremony. To be fair, the students said, CMU needs to distribute texts from other religions as well, like Books of Mormon, Korans and Talmuds.

The students have a point.

Public schools can’t do anything that gives the appearance of endorsing a single religion.

The Supreme Court, ruling (pdf) in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (June 19, 2000), explained that,

“[S]chool sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community and accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’”

Publicly-funded institutions like CMU have to stay neutral in matters of religion, and cannot do anything a reasonable person might construe as an endorsement of a particular religion.

And that’s exactly how the nursing students see the Bible give-away: as an improper endorsement of one and only one religion: Christianity.

The nursing students have three main goals:

  1. They want to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution and the potential for compromising their future careers locally,
  2. They want their entire class to be able to vote on the Bible give-away, and if a majority of the class approves of it, the students want other religious texts, as well as information on atheism, to be included in the give-away.
  3. The want CMU to acknowledge that the Bible give-away violates the law, and they want to keep future nursing classes from having to grapple with this same issue over again in future years.
CMU President Tim Foster

CMU President Tim Foster

One thing that’s working in the nurses’ favor is Gideons’ own internal policy governing the distribution of Bibles in schools. Gideon International’s Form 115 policy on school scripture distribution (in Section 4-1, under “Reaching the Hearts of our Young People”) says,

“If any method of distribution [at a school] has the potential to create media publicity, the distribution must be cancelled or postponed.”

If CMU refuses to work with the nursing students to change or eliminate the Bible give-away, WCAF has vowed to contact the local media, protest at the pinning ceremony and, if necessary, contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) for legal help fighting it.

As U.S. Becomes Less Religious, Secularism Grows on the Western Slope

Don'tBelieveFinalFinalBoardA newly-published Pew Research poll shows a significant drop in the number of Americans who still believe in God, but it also shows plenty of Americans still believe in God.

In 2014, Pew surveyed over 35,000 American adults, and compared the results to a similar large survey they did on religiosity from 2007. The results show a sharp reduction in the number of people who say they believe in God, pray daily and attend church regularly, particularly among millenials. The share of U.S. adults who claim to be “absolutely certain” God exists dropped from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014.  Of Americans who continue to believe in God, though, a declining number say they believe with absolute certainty. In 2007, 79% of people who believed in God were “absolutely sure” their God existed. In 2014, that number dropped to 74%.

Rapid Growth in Non-Believers on the Western Slope

As the U.S. goes, so goes Colorado’s western slope as well.

AxialTiltAccording to the 2014 study, overall more Americans than ever openly identify as religiously unaffiliated. Taken together, religiously unaffiliated U.S. citizens now account for 23% of the adult population, compared with just 16% in a similar poll taken in 2007.

Western slope residents are similarly becoming more open about their lack of belief, and increasingly seeking and finding others of the same mind.

Since 2007, the number of western slope groups providing fellowship, advocacy and recreation specifically for non-believers has boomed. They include Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers (formed in 2007 and based in Grand Junction), Humanists Doing Good in Fruita, Humanists, Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostics – Montrose (HAFTA Montrose), which formed in 2014, the San Juan Secular Society in Ridgway and Durango Skeptics and Atheists. There’s even an atheist dating website for Glenwood Springs.

The increase in openly secular residents in western Colorado has led to more challenges of religious incursions into the public square, like Bible studies and church promotions in public schools, and prayers at city council and county commissioner meetings.

Planned Islamaphobic Rally Fizzles in Face of Opposition by Peaceful Mesa County Citizens

Anti-Islamaphobia rally particpants in Grand Junction today had plenty of signs indicating how they felt about an armed rally by Islam-haters that was planned for the same spot, but never materialized

Participants in Grand Junction’s Anti-Islamaphobia rally had plenty of signs indicating how they felt about an planned protest by armed Islam-haters that was supposed to be held in the same spot, but never materialized

Mesa County residents blocked an armed Islamaphobic uprising from materializing today by gathering at a Grand Junction Islamic Center with enthusiasm, lots of free cookies and plenty of big, handmade signs promoting peace, love and diversity.

Anti-Islamaphobia rally participants hold signs in Grand Junction

Anti-Islamaphobia rally participants hold signs in Grand Junction

The anti-Islamaphobia rally was held to counter the so-called “Global Rally for Humanity,” an armed protest against local Muslin residents that right-wing gun nuts had planned. Similar protests aimed at intimidating U.S. Muslims were planned in 20 cities nationally; Grand Junction’s was to be one of them.

But thanks to strong, organized opposition, the Islam-hating rally pulled it’s Facebook event announcement page and never materialized.

Waves of residents who abhorred the idea of Mesa County being known as a hotbed of Islamaphobia attended the peace rally, which went on all morning and into the early afternoon. They held up signs on I-70B stating a need for a more diverse, loving western Colorado. Many cars honked as they went by and gave a thumbs-up to the event.

RealPatriotsIn one brief incident, four right-wing Islam-haters did show up, but all they did was make some rude gestures, call the group “delusional,” take a selfie with rally participants and then leave. Otherwise the group was completely successful in blocking the planned armed demonstration of hatred against Muslims that was to take place.

Congratulations, citizens of 21st century Grand Junction. You’ve showed that the culture is at long last really changing here, and it has already changed enough that political sanity can occasionally prevail.

Wonderful Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese Restaurant on Orchard Mesa

Namaste Nepal, one of the terrific new restaurants in Grand Junction that add diversity to the cuisine available in town now

Namaste Nepal, one of the terrific new restaurants in Grand Junction that add diversity to the cuisine available in town now

Calling all local food lovers: If you haven’t tried this place yet, you should: Namaste Nepal is a new Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese cuisine place on Orchard Mesa, in the strip mall just west of the True Value Hardware. It just opened in early spring, 2015. The food is absolutely delicious, the prep extremely quick, and the owners are extremely gracious, kind and accommodating. They have a lunch buffet, too. Some of our favorite dishes so far include the lamb boti saag (lamb cubes in a creamed spinach sauce), the shrimp pakora appetizer (shrimp dipped in a garbanzo bean flour batter and deep fried), vegetable samosas (a savory pastry stuffed with lightly spiced peas and potatoes), and the onion kulcha (Indian tandoori oven bread stuffed with onions and fresh cilantro). Namaste Nepal is super-fast for take-out, invariably having orders ready in just 5-10 minutes. Easy parking right in front, too. They recently acquired some new patio furniture so you can eat outside. It’s very quick to get there from the east or west sides of town using the Riverside Parkway. To see their menu, click here. 

Why Stop at Renaming North Ave.? Grand Junction Needs a Modern Moniker

Grand Junction is plagued by a host of bad nicknames

Grand Junction is plagued by a host of bad nicknames

Note – Owing to City Council’s now-official change of name of North Ave. to University Ave. in 2017, I am re-posting this blog from 2015.

In a March 24, 2015 editorial, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel argues that “North Avenue needs a modern moniker.” The article cites the town’s extensive modernization and expansion since it’s founding many years ago, and extensive capital improvements, like the airport and interstate highway, as reasons to rename North Avenue to University Avenue — the most frequently suggested new name for the street.

Changing the name of North Avenue is a fine idea, but it’s thinking small.

Re-Naming is On a Roll, But What Will Really Work to Remove Grand Junction’s Negative Baggage?

We need to take collective big deep breath, go a big step further and rename the entire city.

Lots of local features have been renamed in the past few years. We’ve re-named Walker Field Airport, Mesa State College and F Road, all with no ill effects. The new names have even proven to be marked improvements over the old names, eliminating confusion and better representing the amenities they point to.

But let’s face it, folks. Grand Junction has plenty of negative baggage. This is reflected in the slew of pejorative nicknames our area has earned: “Grand Junktown,” “Gland Function,” “Spun Junction,” “Meth Junction,” “Tweakerville,” to name a few. Moreover, our town has given rise to a disproportionate number of dysfunctional institutions, embarrassing political scandals and politicians.

G.J. Chamber Director Diane Schwenke’s Anti-Atheist Facebook Post

As if the Rick Brainard debacle didn’t offend enough people for the embattled Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, now Chamber president Diane Schwenke has offended the local secular community with an anti-atheist post on her personal Facebook page.  Ms. Schwenke says in her post that she finds this nasty joke “just too good not to share,” so I am sharing it with all of my readers.

Is it ever appropriate for the president of a Chamber of Commerce to attack a minority group like this? Is it more politically safe to attack atheists than it is to attack, say, Jews, Mennonites, Latinos or African Americans? To make matters worse, the G.J. Chamber continues to get public funding from the City of Grand Junction, which pays $6,325/year (updated in 2017) to be a member of the chamber at the highest level. A larger screenshot of Diane Schwenke’s Facebook Page with her joke along with her statement of affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce can be seen here.

Post on Chamber Director Diane Schwenke's personal Facebook page takes a dig at atheists

Post on Chamber Director Diane Schwenke’s personal Facebook page takes a dig at atheists