Foster nixes Bibles at CMU nurse pinning ceremony
Colorado Mesa University nursing students will not have the option to pick up a Gideon Bible after their pinning ceremony in December, a change from a long-standing tradition.
“After reviewing the situation, seeking legal counsel and listening to the opinions of others, President (Tim) Foster decided to discontinue the practice of allowing representatives of Gideon’s International to distribute Bibles at the pinning ceremony for CMU nursing students,” CMU spokeswoman Dana Nunn said Friday.
The decision was sparked by an anonymous CMU nursing student who contacted the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers group and the American Civil Liberties Union, because they did not want Bibles present at the Dec. 11 event, WCAF member Anne Landman said.
Landman said she has spoken with the student, but they did not want to speak publicly for fear of backlash.
“They went through the school first to try to talk to the school about it and didn’t get the response they were looking for,” Landman said. “They wanted to get rid of the Bible giveaway, or at least eliminate it as an issue for future classes. They saw it as a violation of the separation of church and state.”
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to Foster last week urging CMU to discontinue allowing Bibles to be distributed at the pinning ceremony.
“Thrusting bibles at students — who may be of varying faiths or no faith — at graduation is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our public higher education system,” Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote in the letter. “Individuals are free to worship on their own time in their own way. Students and supporters in the audience should not be expected to show obeisance toward religious ritual or belief systems which are not their own.”
Angela Addington, who graduated from the CMU nursing program this summer, said the controversy was blown out of proportion and detracted from the importance of the day.
“We know that religion is not a part of the curriculum,” Addington said. “The Bibles are not at the pinning ceremony, it’s an option … and you must approach (the Gideons) to get it. You have the choice to have it or not have it, it’s totally up to you.”
Addington said the pinning ceremony is separate from graduation, and nurses from around the Grand Valley show up to welcome students into the profession.
Flor Galvan graduated from the nursing program with Addington.
“Our program supports anyone and builds you up to the nurse that you want to be, not their idea of who you should be,” Galvan said.
Galvan said having contention around her pinning ceremony would have been difficult.
“That is the moment that you look forward to all of nursing school,” Galvan said. “I think for me it would be very heartbreaking.”
Nunn said Foster’s decision came down to legal precedent.
“He looked at the legal precedent that is out there, and quite frankly, we are in part a state-supported institution, and we didn’t want to convey the impression of endorsing any one religion over another,” Nunn said. “The custom of the Gideons handing out Bibles to nurses at pinning ceremonies is a long-standing tradition that’s been practiced not only all over the country but all over the world, but it’s nonetheless much more important that we focus our attention on celebrating our students’ achievements.”