CAPS, GOWNS AND TESTAMENTS
From high up in the library, the tallest structures seen on the campus' north- ern border are two steeples and a church tower. But they're most definitely not on University property. Campus ministries cozy up to Carolina on three
sides - but finding out about them on the campus Web site comes under
"advanced search." The department of religious studies delves into religion in a
historical and cultural context, but theology is forbidden.
The U.S. Constitution says be careful, and since 1972 UNC has been. That's the
year the Bibles stopped.
On a winter day in 1842, a discussion in evening chapel touched on the possibility
of students collecting money to send Bibles to other countries. Before it was over, the
faculty had decided that devotion started at home. For the next 130 years, a Carolina
bachelor's degree came complete with a Bible.
The professors themselves bought the books until the Civil War. From the reopening
of the University in 1868 until 1882, the faculty allowed their charges out into the world
with nothing but a sheepskin. That's when a Methodist minister on the Board of Trustees
took up the cause, and Bible distribution resumed with the trustees' blessing - and the
Kemp Plummer Battle (class of 1849) wrote in his history of UNC that he knew of
not a single critic of this practice up through 1907.
By 1970, maybe earlier, graduates had a choice, based on stated religious preference: The Holy Bible (King James); The New
American Bible, St Joseph Edition; or The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text.
Among other UNC campuses, only UNC-Greensboro gave Bibles to graduates, and it stopped in 1930 because of the cost.
In 1972, a committee chaired by then-Director John Sanders ' 50 of the Institute of Government determined that packag-
ing a diploma with a scriptural how-to manual was "of highly doubtful constitutionality." Graduates that year could get one
of the Bibles already in stock, only upon request, and that was the end of it.
"We emphasize that we do not conceive that a discontinuation of the practice," the committee concluded,"would in any
discernable way impair the moral and spiritual development of the graduates of the University."
Carolina bought GAA President
Doug Dibbert ' 70 this Bible, which
was handed to him with his diploma.
- David E. Brown ' 75
olina. That fear seems to be loosening.
"Nobody has said it's a bad idea;' said
Phil Wiehe, Episcopal chaplain at N.C.
State University. The idea is a "spiritual
life center:' NCSU tore down its chapel in
the early 1970s, and now the Chaplain's
Cooperative Ministry - chaplains located
off campus but who rent office space on it
for their work with students - is pushing
for a 20,000-square-foot building with
office and meeting space. They propose a
programming element, too, including a
half-time director with an appointment in
the religious studies department. (Carolina
has no chaplain facilities on the campus,
although most of the nine members of
the Campus Ministers' Association are on
the campus' edge. Evangelical Campus
Ministries works through 10 UNC-recognized student groups.)
NCSU Chancellor Marye Anne Fox
Nove", b e r / De c e 11/ b e r 2 0 0 ' 1
told the group to proceed with plans.
"We've been told that wIllie they like the
idea in principle, it's rather low priority
for a $700 million capital campaign,"
Wiehe said. "Then Sept. 11 happened. I
would say the stock for a spiritual life
center is rising.
"The school was strong on diversity
issues already. Now there is an urgency to
it. Mutual understanding across religious
lines is essential."
Related movements are under way at
schools such as the universities of Maryland,Virginia and Kansas, the College of
William and Mary, and Johns Hopkins.
Bronwyn Leech's idea for Carolina is
not nearly so ambitious. In fact she's
somewhat leery of a more full-service
spiritual center such as other schools are
pursuing. "I feel very strongly that this
should not become a polarizing thing."
She said Muslim students are a perfect
example of the need for a place of reflection. Islam requires that Muslims pray five
tinles each day. It can be anywhere, as
long as they face the direction of Mecca,
but they sometimes have to be inventive
to find a quiet place. And the Muslims are
outgrowing the UNC Hospitals chapel
where they hold Friday prayers.
Leech has kept the chaplains apprised
ofher dialogue with the administration,
and now she's spreading the word to stu-
dent groups."I'd want many denomina-
tions to recognize it as a place offaith."
But, she admits, she's not sure how she
would define "a place of faith."
She's confident that will happen if she
gets the campus talking. .IDt
D AVID E. BRO WN ' 75 is associate editor of