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FIRST-PERSON: Hypocrisy in education

LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–What would be the response of civil libertarians and leftist academics if a major state-run university decided to mandate that all incoming freshmen students study a commentary on the Bible written by me?

You can imagine that the ensuing outcry from the left would be deafening.

“A state school cannot force one religion on students of varying faiths or even students who practice no faith,” they would assert.

However, a comparable situation is actually happening at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has gotten a taste of that old-time religion … of Islam.

The university is, in fact, requiring all incoming freshmen and transfer students to participate in a course on Islam that features a book titled, “Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations.” The book, written by Michael Sells, is an accumulation of passages from the Islamic holy text that includes commentaries by Mr. Sells. After reading the book, students must attend discussion sessions in August.

So let me get this straight: Kids can’t say the Pledge of Allegiance at school because it mentions God. Students also may not allude to their faith at high school graduations, pray before football games or be instructed in abstinence programs that utilize biblical Scripture (all recent court rulings). But this university can force college students to take a course on Islam.

Can you say hypocrisy, students?

The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — the organization that is typically opposed to all religious references in the public square — has nebulously advised the university to “proceed with caution.”

Does this mean the ACLU will now endorse voucher programs and the Ten Commandments at schools?

Don’t bank on it.

Thankfully, a nonprofit conservative organization in Forest, Va., is challenging the university’s required course on Islam. The Family Policy Network has sought out three student plaintiffs — one an evangelical Christian, one a Catholic and one Jewish — who are legally challenging the mandated course. Two other plaintiffs in the suit are James Yacovelli and Terry Moffitt, the latter a UNC alumnus who serves as the North Carolina director of the Family Policy Network (www.familypolicy.net).

The organization’s president, Joe Glover, said Sells’ book is biased because the author is a renowned Islamist and that the nature of the book would be more comparable to a book on the New Testament written by an evangelical leader like me. You can bet that none of my books are going to be required at this or any other school because my books are not politically correct; it would not be fashionable.

This is nothing more than an effort by trendy academics to say, “Look how tolerant and diverse and multicultural we are.”

The lawsuit charges that the university is infringing on students’ First Amendment right to religious freedom by requiring them to read an obviously one-sided book on a particular religion.

“Our long-term goal is to make sure the precedent is affirmed that you cannot force people to take a class about a religious text at a state
university,” Glover said.

Let me say that I have no problem with this or any other university encouraging students to be respectful of Islamic students in the wake of Sept. 11. All Americans need to understand that a large number of Muslims are peaceful people. But this course goes far beyond such an effort.

It could be argued that UNC should have offered a similar course on Christianity after one of those lamebrain individuals bombed an abortion clinic a few years ago. Shouldn’t UNC students have been required to take a course teaching them that virtually all pro-life Christians oppose such violence? Again, that course would not be fashionable and therefore unacceptable to a politically correct administration.

The lawsuit against UNC, filed in federal district court in Greensboro, was prepared by the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy of Tupelo, Miss.

AFA chief counsel Steve Crampton said, “It is hard to believe that a university with the stature of UNC would be unaware of established law prohibiting the religious indoctrination of students. The students represented in this case epitomize the type of victims our organization exists to protect — not only those who are the plaintiffs in this action, but many others whose fear is too great to risk further harm by speaking out.”

This is indeed an important religious freedom case.

While we, as Christians, oppose the abject secularism that is taking place in our courts and throughout society, we also oppose the force-feeding of one religion on students who embrace many different faiths. It’s time our nation and our schools revert to a climate of respect for people of all faiths. When we stop persecuting students for what they believe, the diversity UNC claims to be seeking will fall into place naturally.

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  • Jerry Falwell