University says students surprised by backlash over Koran

By Greg Toppo, Associated Press, 8/28/2002

WASHINGTON – University of North Carolina freshmen, assigned to read a book on the Koran, were more puzzled by a challenge from a religious group, Chancellor James Moeser said yesterday.

”For many of our students, the biggest question of the day seemed to be, `What was the fuss all about?”’ Moeser said.

Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, Moeser said that even if a federal court had stopped the students from talking about the book last week, the discussions would have taken place informally.
Anticipating the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, officials at the university’s Chapel Hill campus asked all 4,200 incoming freshmen and transfer students to read and be prepared to discuss ”Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations” by Michael Sells, a professor at Haverford College.

Three students and two taxpayers, one of whom was an official of a conservative Christian group, asked the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth District in Richmond to stop the discussions, saying the requirement amounted to state sponsorship of religion.

The court ruled in favor of the university on Aug. 19, hours before the sessions were to begin.

”There were no known conversions; Carolina’s religion remains basketball,” Moeser said.

He said many students were puzzled about how followers of Islam could have perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks. ”People want to understand what’s going on here – what’s the nature of this religion?” he said.

Moeser called the book ”a good introduction to Islam for one who stands outside the faith.”

Before the sessions earlier this month, the North Carolina House Appropriations Committee voted earlier this month to ban the use of public funds for such assignments unless other religions got equal time. A few legislators said their votes would have been no different had the book been a study of the Bible.
The state Senate has yet to take up the measure.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 29, 2002.
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