MANDATING THE KORAN
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The ACLU finally finds a religion it can tolerate. Surprise--it's Islam.
When a state university requires students to immerse themselves in the study
of a particular religion, it can expect trouble. That's exactly what the
University of North Carolina got for its summer reading requirement that all
incoming freshmen read portions of the Koran and commentary by a religious
scholar. The school now faces a lawsuit from a group of students and alumni,
charging violations of the First Amendment.
This university exercise in compulsory religious study is strange enough.
But no less so than the acquiescent response of those civil liberties
watchdogs usually ever alert to the danger that somebody, somewhere, might
be sneaking a prayer into some school program or graduation ceremony. The
American Civil Liberties Union, normally busy saving the nation's schools
from the smallest whiff of religious influence, has leapt to university's
defense. Finally, it seems, the ACLU has found a religion it can tolerate.
The University of North Carolina program requires students to read Koran
portions and also listen to a CD offering recitals in Arabic, including the
chant calling the faithful to prayer. Students are then asked to write a
paper on their responses. The point, explains university Chancellor James
Moeser, is to seek understanding and bring home to students the reasons
Islam has a billion followers across the globe.
If that's the case, it's a highly selective understanding since "Approaching
the Qur'an," by Haverford College Professor Michael Sells, omits those
portions of the Koran that terrorists have used to justify their actions.
Mr. Sells explains this away by drawing an analogy to courses in Western
Civilization, where students are more likely to read Biblical passages from
Exodus than the bloody accounts in Joshua. The next time a terrorist cites
Joshua as his rationale for murdering thousands of innocent civilians, let
Students who object to their assignment have been given the option of
writing a paper explaining why they refuse it, and how it offends their
religious values. Some option. We are speaking here of the most vulnerable
and easily cowed members of a school population--the freshman class. Young
people setting foot in a university for the first time aren't in much of a
position to say no to their first assignment, whatever they may feel, and
the university administrators doubtless know that. Members of the incoming
class who do refuse it are still required to show up and explain themselves
at group discussions led by faculty later this month--a teach-in, of sorts.
Still the watchdogs haven't uttered a sound. Apparently the guardians of the
Establishment Clause decided that compulsory religious study is OK if it
helps a university promote the politically correct view of Islam. As an ACLU
lawyer explained on National Public Radio, requiring the readings from the
Koran isn't a problem because its aim is educational, and won't be, as long
as it is presented as belief and not fact. It's hard to imagine the ACLU
exhibiting the same large-mindedness toward a state university that demanded
all freshmen read the New Testament or the Torah and meditate on the
teachings and liturgical music.
The same organization ready to wage war to the death against all forms of
religious expression in the schools has apparently decided it's all right to
exempt Islam and the Koran. Fine with us. Maybe we can look forward to an
extension of this tolerance, whereby the ACLU may even someday desist from
filing lawsuits over Nativity scenes and Christmas carols in the schools, or
the posting of the Ten Commandments. We are, of course, not holding our
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