Group Takes School to Court Over Quran Assignment

A Christian group is going to federal court to force the University of North Carolina from requiring its incoming freshmen to read a book about the Quran.

The university requirement is "putting a positive face on what many people believe to be an evil religion, a very evil religion," said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network.

The FPN and three unnamed students at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, filed suit against the school at the federal court in Greensboro, N.C., on Monday.

University spokeswoman Karen Moon said the school could not comment on pending litigation.

The book flap began when the university announced all 3,500 Chapel Hill freshmen in the Class of 2006 would be reading Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations. The book translates and discusses the earliest 35 suras, the first words Muslims believe God revealed to the prophet Mohammed.

"This was a book chosen in the wake of Sept. 11," UNC Chancellor James Moeser said in a late May interview with "A fifth of the world's population subscribes to the Islamic religion, and yet it's not a well-understood religion. This is a great opportunity to have a conversation on the teachings of one of the world's great religions, how it's been used or misused, whether it's a religion of peace or not."

The school selects a different book for the freshmen every year to introduce them to college-level intellectual discourse. Last year, incoming freshmen were required to read a different book, and next year another book will be chosen.

The FPN loudly criticized the choice of the book, saying it amounted to a state university supporting one religion over another. The group was unappeased when the school decided to allow students to opt out of reading the book if they write a one-page essay explaining their decision.

"The university has become so entrenched in their position that they're forcing kids to defend their own religious views as their first university experience, which is heinous," Glover said.

In late May, author Michael Sells, a professor of comparative religion at Haverford College, said the controversy over his book is undeserved.

"The books is not called Islam. I think that [the FPN is] misinterpreting what the book is," he said. "The purpose of a book is to give a sense of why a billion people belong to the tradition."