Guest Editorial by FPN President Questions UNC Book Choice on Islam

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During the 2002 controversy over a forced Islamic reading assignment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the USA Editorial Board contacted FPN President Joe Glover to request an opinion piece on the topic for the paper’s editorial page. This commentary was printed in the edition:

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GUEST EDITORIAL: “Book fails to tell whole truth” By Joe Glover
USA TodayAugust 8, 2002

“What were they thinking?” “How can anyone use their religion to justify killing innocent people?” These are the kinds of questions many Americans have asked themselves since Sept. 11.

Decision-makers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) say they want to help their students understand the religion of the terrorists by requiring incoming freshmen to read selections from and commentary about the Koran in a book called Approaching the Qur’an by Haverford College Professor Michael Sells.

But publicly funded institutions must be careful how they provide instruction on religion. UNC, with this year’s summer reading program, has breached boundaries set by federal courts in two important ways:

  • UNC violates established law when it requires all freshmen to study the doctrines of a particular religion, from the “holy text” of that religion. The U.S. Supreme Court established a precedent in a case known as Lee vs. Weisman, which bars publicly funded schools from forcing students to submit to religious teaching or practices.
  • UNC errs by failing to maintain “neutrality” toward religion, as required by another Supreme Court decision, Rosenberger vs. University of Virginia. By forcing students to read a single text about Islam that leaves out any mention of other passages of the Koran in which Muslim terrorists find justification for killing non-Muslims, the university establishes a particular mind-set for its students about the nature of Islam. This constitutes religious indoctrination forbidden by the Supreme Court.

UNC’s chancellor claims his school simply wants students to understand Islam in light of recent events. Yet, the students who read only this book still will not understand the motivation of terrorists to kill more than 3,000 Americans. One has to wonder why university officials are afraid to give their students a complete picture of the world of Islam. What do they have to fear?

If UNC truly wants to open students’ eyes about Islam in light of recent events, it should offer an elective course using Sells’ book and another, such as Unveiling Islam, written by two former Muslims, which helps bring the teachings of militant Muslims into focus. Offer the students an elective course telling the whole story, and let them decide for themselves what to believe.

Joe Glover is president of Family Policy Network, based in Forest, Va.

This editorial is available on the USA Today website here:



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