- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) A state legislative committee voted to ban the use of public funds for a University of North Carolina reading assignment on the Koran unless other religions get equal time.

The House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday while it was putting together a $14.3 billion state budget. Some committee members criticized university officials over requiring freshmen to study the Islamic scriptures.

"If you stop and think about what [September 11] meant to this country homeland security, guards everywhere," said Rep. Wayne Sexton, a Republican from Rockingham. "Just think of what it costs to protect ourselves from this faction, and here we are promoting it."

The committee voted 64-10 to bar the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from using public funds for its assignment to new students to read about a book on the Koran unless it gives equal time to "all known religions."

The book, "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations" by Michael Sells, is assigned reading for about 4,200 incoming freshmen and transfer students this month.

After public complaints about requiring students to read the book, the university announced that new students would be permitted to decline to read the book, but must write an essay explaining their decision. Students are scheduled to discuss the book Aug. 19 in small groups.

The reading assignment has sparked intense criticism, and a lawsuit is pending in federal court. The lawsuit, filed by three unidentified freshmen at Chapel Hill and a conservative Christian organization, contends the students' First Amendment right to religious freedom is being violated.

School officials have said that the subject is timely and informational and that the reading requirement is not intended to promote Islam.

"It's unfortunate that people have misinterpreted this reading assignment as a form of indoctrination," school Chancellor James Moeser said.

For it to be approved, the proposal passed by the committee must go the full House and Senate and then to the governor.

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