ACLU of New Mexico’s Case Against NMSU Football Coach Will Go to Trial

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
June 6, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU of New Mexico
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LAS CRUCES, NM – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico announced today that a federal court judge has rejected a request by New Mexico State University (NMSU) head football coach Hal Mumme to throw out the ACLU’s case charging him with discriminating against four Muslim players on the basis of their religion. The ruling means that the case will go to trial on June 25, 2007.

“We are anxious for a jury to hear the facts behind this case,” said ACLU Executive Director Peter Simonson. “There are a number of compelling examples of how the coaching staff interfered with our plaintiffs’ abilities to observe their religion and caused them to feel like their belief in Islam made them outcasts.”

The ACLU contends that:

  • The NMSU coaching staff created an environment hostile to Islam by making ongoing comments disparaging the players’ religion and requiring that players show their support for the war in Iraq. The comments included Mumme’s questioning of player Mu’Ammar Ali about his religious beliefs and whether or not they connected him to al-Qaeda;
  • Mumme promoted Christian prayer prior to practices and meals and refused to allow the plaintiffs to lead the team in Muslim prayers. This behavior had coercive effects on the players’ ability to exercise their Islamic faith;
  • The coaching staff’s indifference to the players’ faith-based dietary restrictions – even going so far as to taunt one of the players with foods he could not eat because of his faith – interfered with the players’ freedom to exercise their religion;
  • Players Ali, Anthony Thompson and Vincent Thompson were dismissed from the team because of their religion and not due to violations of team policy, as evidenced by Mumme’s more lenient punishment of non-Muslim players who arguably committed more serious infractions.

The judge dismissed Mumme’s motion for summary judgment and allowed all the civil rights violation claims to move forward. Attorneys for the ACLU are Joleen Youngers and ACLU Staff Attorney George Bach.

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