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Of Islam and Tar Heels
by Brian S. Wise
20 August 2002

A brief examination as to whether or not the ACLU believes there is such a thing as an Establishment clause.



A few weeks ago, this State’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the local government came to an agreement regarding a Ten Commandments monument outside City Hall. The monument would be moved a few blocks over, where it would occupy space in front of a church, where it will go back to being generally ignored by everyone other than reverent Church and Staters. But it was clear from the beginning of their outrage some sort of equitable solution would have to be reached; after all, everyone knows the real injustice rests in the monument, and not in the general rape and pilfering actually taking place inside City Hall.

Had Abraham Lincoln written the Ten Commandments and slipped them into his first inaugural address, they would today be held in the highest regard, considered wise words uttered to those hoping to live a decent life as a productive citizen. (“I hold that there are hard and fast rules men should live by, should they wish to be men of high moral character: One should not take kindly to and consider false prophets; one should not kill; one should not lie down with another not his own …”) Instead the Commandments are part of a larger Christian document of faith, which the ACLU and all 50 of its State chapters abjectly refuse to take seriously … unless, of course, it’s excerpted and put on display somewhere on public property, then we are dealing with a Constitutional matter of the utmost seriousness. One quickly (and reasonably) concludes that, based entirely upon those most publicized instances of their indignation, the idea is to defeat Christianity (and to a much lesser extent, Judaism) in regards to the public circle, not religion in general.

Which is why ACLU’s support of the University of North Carolina’s adoption of Approaching the Qur’an as required reading smells so funny. UNC is a State university, which seems to suggest (that is, if one wholly believes in the Establishment clause) a study of the Koran – equipped with the author’s commentary and a “CD offering recitals in Arabic, including the chant calling the faithful to prayer” – is a no-no, for the same reasons one cannot read the Commandments in front of City Hall: because it constitutes the State forcing a religion onto the People for examination, whether or not they’re interested, whether or not they even accept Islam as a legitimate religion.

But the students can opt of this mandatory reading, provided they write a paper explaining why they refuse to read the book, or why it offends their own sense of religion; and they must be willing to detail their objections to a portion of the faculty. (One wonders if, for an explanatory essay, a student could state his objections by reading the names of those killed on Black Tuesday, and if this would pass muster.) Not many incoming tar heels will have the nerve to confront their instructors that boldly, and will end up reading an examination of Islam that doesn’t even to discuss the passages upon which hijackers tend to base their actions.

There are more than a few trains of thought here: 1) a youngster heading to UNC does so at the behest of Mom and Dad, who – either implicitly or through ignorance – have decided the school’s curriculum is exactly what they want for their child. Good money is being paid, a lot of very good money, and the child should learn everything offered. But, 2) these children are at least capable of autonomous actions (though mostly performed in groups) and shouldn’t be routinely dismissed for having the courage to say, No, this isn’t for me. And besides, 3) no part of this debate can guarantee any one of these students is actually going to read this book, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time in recorded history a student didn’t bother to read the material.

An acquaintance, when learning of this column’s topic, fired off a gem: “These Christians are acting like there are nutcases in every religion but theirs.” He’s right, of course: it’s not entirely dishonest to suggest there are unstable people throughout Christianity’s ranks; but there is instability throughout every cross section of people, including columnists. (I should know; I’ve spend five years sharing ink and space with them.) Nevertheless, overly zealous Christians tend to shoot abortion doctors (which is bad enough, mind you), managing to avoid altogether the hijacking of large airliners, much less the flying of them into 110 story skyscrapers, for nothing more than a sense of revenge and the 72 virgins you’re supposed to receive on the Other Side. (Seventy-two virgins could only be Hell; give me three females who know what they’re doing, and that is an eternal reward.)

That aside, the matter of zealotry brings us back to the ACLU. Now, there is either an Establishment clause or there isn’t. Which means the ACLU should either support the Koran (and the Commandments, and school prayer, and Nativity scenes) or support nothing of the sort, regardless the religion, so long as any State is involved. The impossible dream; you can bet that if it actually came to a matter of all or nothing, ACLU would firmly stand to choose nothing, because the alternative would be to finally lend credence to a religion they simply cannot stand.

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