Lawsuit Filed against UNC in Federal Court

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GREENSBORO, NC – A lawsuit was filed this morning against the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, alleging the school is infringing upon the religious free exercise of its students and violating the establishment clause of the United States Constitution by forcing incoming freshmen and transfer students to study Islam against their will.

Three students at the University are listed as plaintiffs, along with two leaders of the conservative Christian group Family Policy Network (FPN). The student plaintiffs are unnamed in court documents, while FPN Board Chairman Terry Moffitt and the group’s North Carolina state director James Yacovelli are listed as taxpayer/alumnus and taxpayer, respectively.

FPN President Joe Glover hand delivered the complaint to the Federal Court in Greensboro this morning. He then delivered summonses to Chapel Hill for University Chancellor James Moeser and Vice-Chancellor Cynthia Wolf Johnson. Both are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.

Glover said, “We had hoped the University would see the error of its ways and correct this wrong without going to court. Unfortunately, the controversy only emboldened them to further divide students along the lines of their deeply held religious beliefs. It’s really too bad it had to come to this.”

In recent weeks, FPN representatives have criticized UNC’s requirement for incoming freshmen and transfer students to read an Islamicist’s commentary on parts of the Koran and attend a discussion about the book on August 19. Despite a defensive posture from the UNC administration and a promise that the requirement would not be changed in light of any threat of legal action, public pressure appears to have caused some concern. In what seems to have been a move to insulate the University from legal harm, the school changed the Summer Reading Program’s web site last week to require students who object to the assignment on the basis of their own beliefs to defend their religious objections.

The addition of a so-called “option” to defend not reading the religious text brought greater criticism by opponents of the reading assignment. The change pitted students with religious views contrary to Islam against fellow students, faculty and members of the administration who either ascribe to Muslim views or sympathize with those who do. FPN President Joe Glover said, “At first, UNC wanted to force their students to read a pro-Islamic text, which is bad enough. But now they want those who object on religious grounds to step forward and defend their own beliefs. That’s even worse. The administration may as well line up their incoming students and ask the objectors to take one step forward. What freshman would want to do that?” he asked.

FPN brought national attention to the UNC/Islam controversy when leaders of the group appeared on thousands of network radio and television stations, and in newspaper stories throughout the region. The group successfully used the media appearances to seek out potential plaintiffs to sue the University. FPN President Joe Glover then interviewed the students and connected them with a legal non-profit organization they selected to represent the students in court.

The lawsuit, filed today in Federal District Court in Greensboro, was prepared by the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy of Tupelo, Mississippi. Chief Counsel Steve Crampton said, “It is hard to believe that a university with the stature of UNC would be unaware of established law prohibiting the religious indoctrination of students. The students represented in this case epitomize the type of victims our organization exists to protect — not only those who are the plaintiffs in this action, but many others whose fear is too great to risk further harm by speaking out.”

FPN President Joe Glover is available for in-person interviews in Chapel Hill this afternoon and evening. Glover has a limited number of copies of the complaint filed this morning in Federal District Court for distribution to members of the media. AFA CFL&P Chief Counsel Steve Crampton is available for comment by telephone.

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RELATED INFORMATION:

Daily Tar Heel: Summer Reading Choice Prompts Lawsuit Threat:
http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2002/07/18/3d36c0f96495e

FPN News Release: UNC Wants ‘Objectors’ to Defend Religious Views
http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2002/07/18/3d36c0f96495e

High Point: Christian group considers lawsuit over requirement:
http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=4692021&BRD=1332&PAG=461&dept_id=414366&rfi=8

FoxNews: University’s Quran Reading Stirs Controversy:
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,57093,00.html

UNC Summer Reading Program Islam requirement:
http://www.unc.edu/srp/

The Chapel Hill News: FPN Chairman Terry Moffitt ‘ashamed’ of UNC:
http://www.chapelhillnews.com/Issues/2002/06/02/news04.html

FPN’s first news release on UNC/Islam controversy:
http://www.familypolicy.net/nc/unc-islam.shtml

News & Observer article about Islam requirement controversy:
http://newsobserver.com/news/triangle/story/1406152p-1440245c.html

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