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Praying for attention 

Depending on how you look at it, CU-Springs student Megan Burns is either a crusader or a petty troublemaker.

Last week in this space, we detailed how state Rep. Dave Schultheis was invited to speak at a recent dinner to celebrate the academic successes of students at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs but instead insulted many of them with his moralistic preachings against homosexuals, sexual promiscuity and drug and alcohol use.

This week, let's take a look at how he got there.

It all started last fall, when Schultheis came to the aid of Burns, 24, a graduate assistant and a state tax-paid employee who oversees 18 resident advisers in the university's Housing Village. According to documents obtained under Colorado's Open Records Act, Burns started off the school year by sending out an invitation that required the RA's to show up for Bible study sessions in her dorm room.

Requiring such mandatory participation is illegal. Federal and state laws prohibit public institutions like CU-Springs from imposing or condoning specific religious practices in the workplace or giving the appearance that they are doing so. Burns' supervisor -- a fellow Christian -- informed her that her mandate was inappropriate.

But instead of simply offering, say, an apology, Burns contacted Rep. Schultheis and complained that she was the victim of "personal harassment" on the basis of her religion.

On Oct. 29, Schultheis sent a threatening five-page letter to CU-Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley, demanding, among other things, a complete investigation.

Schultheis also expressed "great concern" over alcohol awareness programs on campus -- which Burns had also alerted him to. Specifically, Schultheis didn't like the names of the events -- one is called "Get Your RA Drunk Night," and the other is called "Virgin Night."

He also complained about a program that Burns had told him about, where condoms had "recently" been placed in the mailboxes of students and staff at the university.

"If known to the community at large and, more specifically, the General Assembly, I believe [these matters] would greatly damage the public standing of the University," Schultheis warned.

On Nov. 6, Shockley responded to Shultheis, emphasizing that "[Ms. Burns'] right and ability to hold private Bible studies in the University Housing has never been at issue."

"In fact, I am pleased to have her example in our resident hall leadership."

However, Shockley pointed out, Burns had included an invitation to her Bible study on a notice of "required" attendance.

"We do not want the RA's to perceive that the Bible study was a required part of their RA employment," Shockley wrote.

As for the alcohol awareness programs, Shockley explained that the "Get Your RA Drunk Night" is an event where, under supervision of campus police, students over 21 consume limited alcohol and food and then take roadside sobriety tests and breathalyzers so they can learn how little alcohol it takes to become legally impaired. "Virgin Night" is an event where students get together to drink nonalcoholic beverages (i.e. virgin daiquiris) to underscore the fact that they can have a fun, wholesome evening without booze.

The names of the events might be controversial, Shockley wrote, but they have also served to drive up student interest and participation.

Which is the entire point of the exercise. After all, what student gets excited about the prospect of spending an evening at something called, say, "Roadside Sobriety and the Law Night" or perhaps, "A Fun-Filled Night of Scrabble and Stale Coffee"?

Since the inception of these programs, alcohol-related disturbances and arrests have declined significantly on campus, Shockley noted. Still, she expressed a willingness to work on "new and interesting event names."

Finally, Shockley noted, the university's condom distribution program was discontinued more than two years ago. "We have a policy in the Housing Village that prohibits sexual relations, and it was considered a contradiction," Shockley told the Independent last week.

The whole tempest might have been an annoying blip, save for a ridiculously embellished story about Burns that appeared in the January issue of Focus on the Family's nationally-distributed Citizen magazine.

In the piece, which can be read online at

www.family.org, Burns was heralded as a Christian crusader who had, in the face of obvious evil, singlehandedly forced CU-Springs to changed its "policy" to allow her to hold Bible studies in her dorm room. Burns also got credit for halting the condom-distribution program, which, as noted above, was discontinued two years ago.

Focus' Citizen piece, credited Burns' "battle" and victory" as a "direct answer to prayer."

"It strengthens you when you don't compromise," Burns said in the article.

With all due respect for God, we offer another description: It's called self-righteous indignation.

-- degette@csindy.com

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