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UNC under fire for assignment focusing on Islamic book. (People & Events).

Several Religious Right organizations are attacking the University of North Carolina, asserting that the school violated the separation of church and state by asking all incoming freshmen to read a book about the Koran, the holy book of Islam.

The controversy started over the summer when word got out that freshmen had been asked to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations by Michael A. Sells, a professor of comparative religion at Haverford College. The assignment was for students to read the book and then meet in small groups to discuss it in late August. Word quickly began circulating on right-wing websites and escalated nationally when Fox News Channel commentator Bill O'Reilly denounced the move, saying UNC was promoting "our enemy's religion." O'Reilly compared the assignment to forcing student to read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in 1941.

UNC officials said they were interested in having students read a book about a topical subject. They denied that the book was meant to indoctrinate, calling it an objective introduction to the beliefs of Islam.

University officials later altered the assignment, saying any student who did not want to read the book could instead write a 300-word essay about his or her objections. But the Family Policy Network, a Virginia-based affiliate of the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association, filed a lawsuit against the university in federal court anyway.

The suit, Yacovelli v. Moeser, was filed July 22 on behalf of three incoming freshmen who say the school is unconstitutionally promoting religion through the assignment. So far, two federal courts have refused to issue orders blocking implementation of the programs.

"We chose the book because since Sept. 11 many of us have wondered what the core teachings of Islam really are," UNC Chancellor James Moeser said in a statement. "We're not spoon-feeding [students] a set of beliefs. We're asking them to read and tell each other what they think."

State lawmakers are also attempting to intervene. On Aug. 7 the House Appropriations Committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 64-10 to bar UNC from using public funds for the reading assignment unless it agrees to give equal time to other religions.
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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