- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) A federal appeals court refused yesterday to halt small-group discussions about the Koran at the University of North Carolina.

On Friday, attorneys for a conservative Christian group asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to stop yesterday's two-hour discussion sessions of a book that interprets the Islamic holy text. Members of the Virginia-based Family Policy Network and three unidentified UNC-Chapel Hill freshmen contend that the assignment is unconstitutional because it promotes Islam.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected the motion, ruling that "the appellants have failed to satisfy the requirements for such relief."

The ruling was written by Judge Robert B. King, who was joined in the unanimous decision by Judges Roger L. Gregory and William B. Traxler Jr.

A lower court judge in Greensboro, N.C., had rejected the plaintiffs' arguments Thursday.

Attorneys for the state-supported university say thousands of incoming students would lose their free-speech rights if they were barred from discussing the book, which interprets parts of the Islamic faith's holy text.

About 4,200 incoming freshman and transfer students were assigned to read about 130 pages of "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations," by Michael Sells, a religion professor at Haverford College.

A university committee selected the book after the September 11 terrorist attacks to introduce students to unfamiliar ideas shared by about 1 billion Muslims around the world, state attorneys said in a court brief filed Saturday.

The reading and the two-hour group discussions planned for yesterday afternoon on the Chapel Hill campus were designed to initiate students into the university's intellectual life, state attorneys said.

Officials have said students who do not do the assignment face no sanctions. In previous years, about 50 percent to 60 percent of new students have participated.

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