Michael Sells' Approaching the Qur'an was the Summer Reading Program pick for 2002. Its selection provoked protest and spawned a lawsuit from individuals worried that the University was promoting Islam and forcing religious views on students.
In Approaching the Qur'an, Sells, a professor of Islamic history and literature at the University of Chicago, provides translations of and commentary on thirty-six early suras, or chapters, of the Qur’an (Koran). He also offers a historical and literary background for the Qur'an.
These preprinted postcards were distributed by the Family Policy Network (FPN), a Virginia-based, socially conservative Christian organization. The group, whose chairman, Terry Moffitt, earned his undergraduate degree from UNC-CH in 1981, opposed selection of Approaching the Qur'an for the Summer Reading Program. The FPN said that the suras selected for the book create a false impression of Islam, painting it as a peaceful religion. Moffitt and another leader of the FPN joined with three UNC freshmen in filing a federal lawsuit arguing that the book choice violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion. A federal judge denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction, ruling the University was not forcing students to read the book and was not violating the First Amendment. A federal appeals court panel upheld the lower court ruling. The chancellor's office received more than 20,000 postcards from throughout the United States.
John Shelby Spong is a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church and a progressive theologian who has published more than 20 books. His works call for Christianity to be open to many types of believers and warn against literal readings of the Bible, positions that have sparked criticism from some. A native of Charlotte and 1952 graduate of UNC, Spong penned an essay, "UNC, the Qur'an and Bill O'Reilly," in which he defends his alma mater for its summer reading selection. He included a copy of the essay with his letter of support to Moeser.
Both critics and supporters of the University's selection of Approaching the Qur'an referred to Hitler and his book Mein Kampf in arguing their points. Conservative commentator and television host Bill O'Reilly suggested that requiring students to read Approaching the Qur'an was akin to asking a UNC undergraduate to read Mein Kampf in 1941. This letter writer takes a different point of view.
Chancellor Moeser heard from numerous alumni about the University's summer reading pick for 2002. Some vowed to immediately stop donating to UNC and to prevent their children from attending the school. Others, like this letter writer, praised the chancellor for upholding principles of academic freedom.
This clip from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart from 8 October 2002 features Robert Kirkpatrick, chair of the Summer Reading program selection committee and a professor of English. This clip contains language that some may find objectionable.