The House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday while it was putting together a new, $14.3 billion state budget. Some committee members attacked university officials over the plan to teach freshmen about the holy scriptures of Islam. "If you stop and think about what 9/11 meant to this country - homeland security, guards everywhere," said Rep. Wayne Sexton, R-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 UNC-Chapel Hill from using public funds for its assignment to new students to read about a book on the Quran 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. New students may decline to read the book but must write an essay explaining their decision. Students are scheduled to discuss the book Aug. 19 in 180 small-group discussions.
The reading assignment has sparked intense criticism. A lawsuit is pending in federal court, filed by three unidentified UNC-Chapel Hill freshmen and a conservative Christian organization. It contends the students' First Amendment right to religious freedom is being violated.
School officials have said 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.