Muslim Athletes Accuse New Mexico State of Religious Discrimination

Aug. 28, 2006

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -Three former New Mexico State University football players - all Muslims - sued the university and coach Hal Mumme on Monday, saying they were dismissed from the team because of their religious beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Mu'Ammar Ali and brothers Anthony and Vincent Thompson.

"Universities are supposed to be places of evolved thinking and reason, not of base intolerance and bigotry" said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU New Mexico. "In this case, the university failed its purpose, and a coach indulged in those prejudices to assert his own religious preferences over the players and the team."

The lawsuit alleges Mumme, who was hired by New Mexico State in January 2005, instituted a "religious brotherhood" within the football team and singled out Muslim athletes. It claims Mumme had players recite the Lord's Prayer after each practice and before each game. Ali and the Thompsons said that practice made them feel like outcasts and caused them to pray separately from the other players.

"I really don't know what the allegations are," said Bruce Kite, the school's general counsel, who added he had not seen the lawsuit. "To say anything at this point and time would not be appropriate."

The NMSU board of regents and William V. Flores, the school's vice president and provost, also were named in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, not long after Mumme learned Ali, now a halfback for Portland State, and the Thompsons were Muslim, he prohibited the Thompsons from attending the team's spring 2005 training camp and questioned Ali about his attitudes toward al-Qaida.

The lawsuit says the Thompsons were dismissed from the team on Sept. 2, 2005 because they moved their belongings to an unapproved locker and were labeled "troublemakers." Ali, the Aggies' leading rusher in 2004, learned he had been dismissed via a telephone message from Mumme on Oct. 9, 2005, according to the lawsuit.



Last year, the ACLU filed a grievance against Mumme, alleging he repeatedly questioned Ali about al-Qaida, and asked for a public apology, plus disciplinary action against Mumme.

In response to the allegations, New Mexico State hired Albuquerque law firm Miller Stratvery to investigate. The firm concluded the football program had not engaged in religious discrimination against the three Muslim athletes. The investigation included interviews with the football coaching staff, athletics department personnel and student-athletes.

During a news conference last November, Mumme said he had apologized to his team for any unintentional actions that might have offended anyone.

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